Report from Tomorrow - Vol 3

1USD = S$1.62 (S$1 = 0.62USD)


The government is really pushing a "cashless society" and in this regard, Singapore is way ahead of the US. I've only got 2 cards (ATM and MRT/bus card), although most people have a charge card and phone card also. The ATM card can be used in most larger shops and many smaller ones. We don't expect to get a Sing-dollar Visa card cause the ATM will serve that need. The MRT has its own card. So do the telephones.

Most regular payments are made through electronic payments from your bank account - things like rent, phone, water, etc. This may be because depositing/cashing a check is a remarkably arduous task. In this regard the banks here are way behind this US. Banks here keep bankers hours (remember those - 10AM to 3PM)? Its a real pain to do anything at the bank.

The latest program, that just got underway here, are cash value cards -- i.e. a card with a small micro chip on it that has a value, just like cash. You can add or delete from it. And if you leave it in your card, it'll melt or deform and you lose the money. Using this means the merchant doesn't have to contact the bank for a debit, so the banks and government has pushing the use of these.

We have a Sing-dollar account (ATM tied to this) and an USD account (where I get my paycheck deposited). We can write checks on either. To buy Sing-dollars, I stand in line for 20 minutes and then deposit a USD check into my Sing-dollar account. It's the only time I have deal with the bank directly.

My Work Place, UOB

I work for United Overseas Bank (UOB), a large multinational bank here in Singapore. It is the 1st or 2nd largest (of 150+ banks) on the island and has some 5000 employees worldwide (including branches in New York and San Francisco). I'm working on a system to automate the commercial lending for the bank. The process to approve/fail, document and track a commercial loan is astoundingly complex. There are literally hundreds of decision points in the process. In addition there are the reports that must be made to the government -- again very very complex and extremely time consuming. Our project is to automate all/most of this.

In any case, it's a big deal for the bank. They've been waiting for this for 3 years. IBM blew 3 million and never produced anything. So the bank started over with the guy who brought me here (an ex-IBMer from Australia). I'm the manager/team leader for all of the support people - system admins, build & integration and for now, test (a test manager is to come in soon). In so many ways, this is just what I've done for IBM Rochester since 1978. The people are good, young and haven't made as many mistakes as I - so I can look wise guiding them.

[Warning, tech-talk follows] The loan system is all being done in Java. The Australian heading the project has authored books in OO and really really knows his stuff. The group has been working with Peter Coad on the object model. Peter comes here once every 2 months (I think). They are using a new product called "Together" to help design the object models and generate the template code. Digital Focus in CA is doing another isolated part of the project. This is very very cool work going on. As you might infer, this is paradiagm-breaking work for a bank. Using Java and internet-related technologies is a big deal for the bank, but since they already blew S$3 million using the old approach, they're trying a new approach. The project did a small pilot last year and passed all the criteria that was set. Now they're doing it for real.

The bank, being an Asian company, works 5.5 days a week - yup, half days on Saturdays. I get one Saturday a month off. Mary's been complaining about it already. You really don't have enough time between Friday and Monday this way, but it's the way things are. It wasn't that long ago, I'm told, that Asian companies worked 7 days a week, so this is an improvement. Mary's not impressed with that line either :-)

Dress here is "business casual" within our group - meaning nice dress pants (e.g. Dockers) and a long sleeved shirt. No tie (whew). Since it's so warm, everyone here rolls their sleeves up - no short sleeves, no knit shirts. Of course, work is air conditioned, but you aren't always in air conditioning on the way to work. The rest of the bank wears a while shirt and tie, so we're lucky, I guess. This is a long way from Ann Arbor grunge. I keep a tie in my desk, for the few times I have to attend meetings with the rest of the bank (i.e at the main headquarters downtown). Saturdays are sort of a dress down day - jeans, shorts and other reasonable clothing are allowed.

Working for a bank does have advantages. I don't pay most bank fees and we get a good exchange rate, but they still make me stand in line and don't stay open late for employees. No, they don't give samples either :-) Its interesting to see how a bank works from the inside. I'm told this bank is very progressive and in many ways better than most US banks. This is not as comforting a thought as you'd like it to be. :-)