With the COVID-19 pandemic still taking its toll on the health of citizens and financial markets around the world, including Singapore, many are concerned at the prospect of a not-too-distant economic crisis.
Governments around the world, including Singapore's, are now tasked with the tricky balancing act of protecting lives from the virus while cushioning the economic impact on people and businesses once the pandemic slows.
In the meantime, how financially prepared are Singaporeans for a looming economic crisis?
A look at Singapore's financial health
According to GoBear's recently conducted survey "Unlocking Financial Health in Asia: Creating a Financial Health Index", 24% of Singaporeans said that they would have zero support from their social network in times of financial need.
Meanwhile, 49% of Singaporeans surveyed said they did not receive support from their social network except for small needs, while only 5% of them would receive support for extreme needs.
This indicates a more self-reliant approach adopted by most Singaporeans in challenging financial times.
Overall, Singapore scored relatively high on the survey with a financial health index score of 68%, the highest amongst the four markets surveyed and above the APAC average of 63%.
What is financial health?
How well-sorted would you consider your finances? Are you financially prepared for economic slowdowns, being let go from your job, medical expenses or other unforeseen circumstances? Are you aware of what your spending habits are - both good and bad?
All of the above factors and more would be considered when assessing the financial health of a person, which shows the state of someone's personal financial affairs.
So how do Singaporeans fare as a market in terms of our financial health?
The same GoBear survey sought to answer this very question for four markets in Asia - Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong.
It measured actual versus perceived scores of each market using the scores of 3 pillars of financial health - financial knowledge, financial security and financial inclusion.
The 3 pillars of financial health
Through this survey, the main areas of focus to assess Singapore's overall financial health were based on three main pillars - financial literacy, financial security and financial inclusion.
So how did Singapore score on each of these pillars?
Financial literacy of participants accounted for 50% or the largest proportion of GoBear's financial health index (FHI) construction.
This first pillar's focus was the level of personal finance knowledge of participants and their effective application of this knowledge to make better financial decisions in their daily lives.
Participants surveyed were asked questions such as "How would you describe your current financial knowledge versus other people in your country?”. Their responses were then used to determine a market's perceived financial literacy scores.
Meanwhile, participants were also asked to take financial concept quizzes to determine their actual financial literacy scores.
When perceived and actual financial literacy scores were compared, Singapore scored highly on both, indicating a high level of awareness of financial products and an accurate estimate of their understanding about their financial knowledge.
Overall, Singapore scored 78% on financial literacy, the highest amongst the four APAC countries surveyed.
However, despite the relatively high score for financial literacy, a third of Singaporeans stated that they have insufficient planning for retirement.
40% of Singaporeans also acknowledged they lack an understanding of financial optimization, while 25% of them do not know when or how to start planning for retirement.
The second pillar taken into account was financial security, which made up 30% of the FHI construction.
This pillar zoomed in on how secure Singaporeans feel about their current financial situation and how well they would cope with a sudden or unexpected loss of income.
Singapore scored 60% for its financial security scores, also the highest among the countries surveyed.
A slight majority (55%) of Singaporeans said they could cover their expenses for the next 6 months should they lose their job.
However, in terms of Singaporeans feeling secure about their finances, a few concerns were raised.
Half of the Singaporean participants said they expect that they will be carrying debt or a mortgage even after they retire.
Apart from that, more than 1 in 3 millennials (34%) believe they will need to support their children as well as their parents financially during retirement.
When asked "What might hinder financial security?", a majority (54%) of participants answered that cost of living outpacing their earnings was the top concern.
The third pillar used for the GoBear FHI construction was financial inclusion.
This pillar was focused on how well financial services and products are accessible to everyone in Singapore regardless of their background, net worth or profession.
Singapore scored 51% for financial inclusion, which was slightly ahead of other markets in APAC which had an average score of 48%.
This score is expected to rise as the demand for cash continues to fall.
This includes trends like e-wallets and online payments which increases the accessibility of financial products to all Singaporeans.
For instance, the popularity of the PayNow app launched in 2017 and the government’s plan to transform Singapore into a cheque-free country by 2025 is expected to lead to a very rapid increase in online payments.
How healthy are Singaporeans' finances overall?
The key to better preparing for a possible economic crisis around the corner would be to first improve our financial health.
With an economic slowdown already taking place due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's more important than ever for us to assess our financial situations, understand financial products and act from a place of knowledge and pragmatism rather than fear and uncertainty.
And so, based on the data collected in the survey about Singapore, here are some areas of improvement to better prepare for tricky economic times.
Improve financial literacy
Despite the widely-available information about wealth topics on the web, our awareness of financial products and general financial knowledge could be made stronger still.
While wealth topics are generally not commonly discussed on social media platforms in Singapore, there is still a host of websites online to find out about financial products and learn more about personal finance - including the GoBear platform and blog!
Apart from that, the study showed that many of us still fall too far on the conservative side when it comes to investing, which is still not seen as a need for a significant proportion of people.
But this doesn't need to be the case!
Instead of placing emphasis only on your short-term financial goals, strive to consider your long-term outlook when choosing investment products or making purchases. Your future self will thank you!
Improve financial security
While the data from the survey showed that 35-year-olds and above tend to practice more controlled spending, there's no reason the younger generation can't follow suit.
It's never too early to start planning for retirement!
In times like these, financial safety nets can be a bit more precarious, especially with an extended period in which job security is less certain.
Hence, it's advised to practise conscious spending, build up an emergency fund and to invest prudently according to your specific risk tolerance.
Improve financial inclusion
Consider diversifying your portfolio of investments and looking at ways to not have all your eggs in a single basket. High-yield savings accounts are a great way to help your savings go further with higher interest!
Try to take advantage of technology such as e-wallets and digital payments to make the most of your spending and earn cashback, rewards or other incentives. For investments, you might consider robo-advisors or P2P investments to get started.
With a lot of economic uncertainty ahead, it's so important to make the best short-term as well as long-term financial decisions to improve our financial health.
The first and biggest step towards that is building our financial literacy. Understanding your finances, spending habits, the financial products available in the market and how to invest will enable you to make the best financial decisions possible.
Wondering where to start?
GoBear's comparison platform tool helps you better understand the financial products in the market. Try out the GoBear tool for the best high-yield savings accounts available to boost your savings today!