Conversations with Jeremy Chia

By Jejhar Singh and Phue Pyae Pyae Khine

Jeremy Chia is a Consultant at LucaNet (ASEAN). In his current role, he specialises in digital transformation — using business intelligence and analytics tools to help clients maximise the use of financial information through reporting and analysis. In this article, Jeremy shares his journey of finding his passion at the intersection of Finance, Accounting, and Data Analytics, together with his involvement in the non-profit space at Soap Cycling Singapore. He also provides insights on the future of accounting and sustainable financing.

I’m a Consultant at LucaNet. My work revolves around digital finance transformation. This is something I’m very passionate about. Finding the “sweet spot” between automation, analytics, and accounting is something that I’ve been trying to do in both a professional and personal capacity. 

Apart from this, I am a Director at Soap Cycling Singapore, a non-profit social enterprise, and I am the Treasurer at the Bukit Merah Youth Network.

My day starts at 8am by catching up with news updates coming in from the US, Europe and Asia. After having breakfast with my family, I begin work at 9 am.

My workday consists of various elements including meetings with clients and discussions with my teammates. A large part of my day is focused on delivering digital transformation solutions for our clients.

I end my day either with a ride on my bicycle, by catching up with friends, working on Soap Cycling Singapore, attending virtual webinars on finance or sustainability, or digesting learning material from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on Coursera, or edX, etc.

To sum it up: change is the only constant. Accountancy is seen as one of the more routine and methodical professions. Some people might even call it ‘boring’. Day-to-day accounting is indeed grounded in predictable processes. However, since I’ve completed my undergraduate studies, there have already been large changes to the profession. 

We see new terminologies popping up – Industry 4.0, Big Data, AI, Machine Learning, and so on. Accountants in the future will have to keep up to date with some of these new skills. Some of these technologies are only a few years old! The sector is continuously evolving, and there will be more and more things to keep up to date with. In sum, one has to anticipate change and stay relevant.

The most substantial challenge is facilitating change. People do tend to take comfort in what’s familiar. People are hence often resistant to adopting something new. From a practical point of view, one of the biggest challenges my team and I face is that when we present users with a novel solution, they might be less willing to accept it right away. Hence, we have to be patient.empathetic, and work towards better solutions that address their concerns. However, what is heartening is that most of the time, our clients begin to see the value of our proposed solutions after some time. One has to be patient and keep trying. It is important to believe in what you’re doing!

When moving to a new location, the biggest challenge is finding ways to understand and adapt to the local context. With regard to my experience in Hong Kong, I am grateful for my wider professional network, the Nanyang Technological University community, and my local friends there who helped me adapt to the environment. 

I tried to stretch my linguistic abilities by learning Cantonese, to better communicate with others there. It was a good choice because knowing the lingua franca of a place helps others warm up to you better. In one of the classes I took during my semester abroad, I was shocked when I was invited to join a project group after my classmate, seated next to me, found out that I could speak Cantonese. Learning the local language and customs also helps you appreciate the local community a lot better. I was very charmed by Hong Kong the people, the culture, the landscapes, and many more. I would strongly encourage anyone to take the opportunity to go for an overseas experience. It is a good learning experience, and will probably be one of the best in your life.

I have always had an interest in numbers and an affinity for Math. I appreciate methodical approaches to problem solving and process-based environments; those that come with predictability and structure. Naturally, I felt Accounting was a good fit for me. 

However, over time, my appreciation of Accounting has grown after discovering there is more to it, especially given recent technological developments. Accounting is more than just crunching numbers. It is the language of business. Even within the relatively structured Accounting industry, there are many other domains of expertise than simply the numbers we report. There was an opportunity to look beyond existing processes and methods. Accounting departments are now gearing up to add value to decision making. We can do this by making use of big data and analytics to drive better decision making.

I am fortunate because as the Accounting profession evolved, I also sustained an interest in related topics that helped me stay relevant. I first explored electives in Computing, Automation, and Analytics during my undergraduate studies, and recognised that these were powerful emerging technologies. Advocating for more Accountants to take up these technologies is what drives me now. I see great value in the challenge and the social mission of trying to make technology more accessible to finance users, to let the masses see the value of these new technologies, and to improve the way our finance community works. The finance sector has already gone through so much change, much more than I expected. There is so much learning to be done and I feel like accountants (and everyone, really) have a greater need to learn new things and get ourselves updated with the latest trends.

I have been talking a lot about new technologies, and I strongly believe this is a key way the finance industry is going to change going forward. There are emerging solutions in automation, analytics,blockchain, etc. We can expect that the rate of technological adoption will only get faster. The pace of technological advancements will either be sustained, or accelerate post-pandemic. 

We can expect a greater emphasis on value-creation activities, with more procedural tasks being automated. I hope finance users will confront any negative perceptions that they have towards technology and embrace constructive change. There is a Japanese word, ‘kaizen’, which means continuous evolution for the better and I wish the same for the finance industry. Change is not something to be feared, but rather a way of thinking, a lifestyle, and continuously wanting to do better. Sometimes members of the industry might be content with focusing on routines and the results required of them as part of the job. Rather than thinking ‘this is just my KPI’ or ‘I’m only motivated to do this because my boss tells me to’, I hope that people will be motivated because they want to constantly better themselves and their work. This will help everyone remain open to change, and continue to be ready to adapt to the ‘next big thing’ in the finance industry.

The interconnectedness of finance and sustainability is ever-growing. There is a greater need for individuals and organisations alike to be conscious of our decisions, with climate change being a big issue to focus on. PM Lee talked about this in the National Day Rally as well. Recently, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources has been renamed to the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment which highlights the importance of these issues. 

Sustainable financing and green financing are going to become a focal point. In many global economies, like ours in Singapore, companies are influenced by dollar votes. This means stakeholders the people who lend money to them, the people who invest in them, and consumers have a say in the company’s decision making and activities. 

So where does the finance industry come in? Banks and financial institutions are the ones who lend money and invest in these companies. This means – companies that require capital have to take into consideration the wishes and wants of these big players, giving financial institutions leverage to pursue a sustainability agenda should they choose to do so. With this in mind, I believe that financial institutions have to play the leading role in steering future considerations and business endeavours towards a sustainable operating model. 

There is a shift from being solely profit-driven to a different model of a ‘triple bottom line’: social, environmental, and financial performance. Sustainability reports are increasingly required by lenders when assessing new loans and, by stock exchanges as part of a company’s annual disclosures. Additionally, there are useful frameworks to help companies enact this change. For instance, the Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) framework, or the Global Reporting Initiative. 

However, rather than thinking of sustainability reporting as a compliance requirement, I hope companies and their component decision-makers start treating sustainability as an attitude and framework that guides socially responsible business decision making. I believe that if companies make sustainable and socially responsible decisions, it will benefit both their business and the good of society as a whole.

My non-profit work has brought immense fulfillment. I have been fortunate to work alongside the team at Soap Cycling Singapore to do very meaningful and necessary work to benefit our community. In the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we managed to distribute over 800kg of soap to the community.

This helped our migrant worker community and vulnerable individuals by providing them with soap, an essential resource to fight the virus. Seeing how an initiative like Soap Cycling can bring different members of our community together volunteers, soap manufacturers, our migrant workers, hoteliers, corporates is a clear demonstration of the resilience of our society. This is something I am very proud of. I am very heartened by those who have come forward to offer help during this crucial period.

Soap Cycling Singapore is a non-profit social enterprise that aims to: reduce hospitality wastage, improve sanitation and hygiene, and provide a platform for education and empowerment. This is done through the recycling of soap. I serve as a director for Soap Cycling Singapore and have been involved in Soap Cycling Singapore since 2018. 

I started with Soap Cycling as an intern while I was on exchange at the University of Hong Kong, and I continued to support its operations after returning to Singapore. Currently, I oversee the finance, operations, and analytics topics of our organisation. 

My time with Soap Cycling in Hong Kong was a wonderful experience that gave me many opportunities to understand the local life and customs through being able to interact with the locals. I saw that Soap Cycling acts as a ‘social lubricant’: a platform that brings different people from all walks of life together and gives them a common activity to interact- soap recycling. While in Hong Kong, I engaged with the elderly as they volunteered with us, and experienced first-hand the charms and warmth of local life. Speaking to them in Cantonese and learning about their lives was an awesome experience. 

The Soap Cycling team is a diverse group, and it consists of many different personalities, including students, corporates who want to do CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), hoteliers, and migrant workers. Our engagement with migrant workers is something that I am very grateful for, especially because they are members of the community that we often do not get to interact with. Soap Cycling creates a safe space for everyone participating, regardless of background, to interact with one another. Due to this diversity, people walk away with different perspectives, a different understanding of the lives of different communities, and overall, a positive and enriching experience. I honestly think that this is one of the most beautiful things about Soap Cycling.