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Court the silver dollar in Singapore

This article is more than 12 months old

Today's affluent and savvy baby boomers is a market to be tapped on and Singapore provides the perfect test bed

At supermarket and convenience store tills, young shoppers fumble with cash - until a white-haired saviour appears.

"So simple!", Uncle Sim exclaims, showing them how to live the cashless and contactless life with Visa payWave.

The fictional star of a video ad series, Uncle Sim is nevertheless very real. With his technoliterate ways and strong purchasing power, he is the face of a new wave of Asia's elderly.

According to a recent study by the Asia Pacific Risk Center, Asia is ageing faster than any other region in the world, with another 200 million people passing the age of 65 in the next decade or so. By 2030, there will be some 511 million elderly people in this region.

This demographic wave brings exciting opportunities.

With Asia's middle class having burgeoned over the decades, its ageing cohorts represent a massive market of affluent, savvy consumers with more leisure time and disposable income than ever before.

The 2015 Asia Pacific Silver Economy Business Opportuni­ties Report projected that the Asia-Pacific's greying market will reach US$3.3 trillion (S$4.7 trillion) in 2020.

To attract the silver dollar, companies must know what these consumers want.

For example, the Asian market for "functional foods" - supposed to improve nutrition and prevent diseases, such as calcium-enriched products for stronger bones - is estimated at US$40 billion to US$70 billion, and set to grow 7 per cent a year.

Companies must also actively seek to understand the whole user experience: how elderly customers learn about a product, how they access it, as well as the post-purchase customer service they seek.

The elderly should not be underestimated when it comes to digital literacy: A whopping 72 per cent wished for online retail options and free delivery.

This shows that digital and social media should not be neglected when courting the baby-boomer generation.

For companies that want to capture opportunities from Asia's ageing middle class, Singapore is the place to be.

With its mature consumer market, vibrant research and development (R&D) environment and government support for age-related initiatives, the city state provides an ideal foothold for firms offering products and services for the greying generation.

The nation of five million has the perfect conditions for test-bedding silver products.

By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 years or older - making the republic of seniors an ideal market for launching silver products.

Indeed, Singapore emerged tops in the 2015 Ageing Asia Silver Economy Index of 15 regional economies, reflecting the high market potential of its ageing population.

Singapore's smartphone-using seniors, for instance, are an ideal pool of early adopters for silver-friendly apps.


One transforming app could facilitate queueing at food and beverage outlets - an activity that could be particularly strenuous for older customers.

Even new styles of stores can be tested here. Supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice's Enabled Store is customised to the needs of the elderly as well as people with disabilities, with features such as call buttons and magnifying glasses.

Unlike some advanced economies where silver products are crafted to suit just the local market, elder-friendly products and services developed here have travelled worldwide.

Siemens Medical Instruments launched the Ace hearing aid in its manufacturing and R&D facility here.

International food and beverage players also see Singapore as an important base from which to reach the region, with the city state playing host to one of three Asia R&D centres of US-based healthcare firm Abbott Nutrition.

Singapore's diverse yet dense ecosystem of capabilities and talents makes it easy for innovation to bloom too.

Companies coming here will find a wealth of think-tanks, consultancies, start-ups and consumer research companies with whom they could partner to develop new business models, products and services.

Procter & Gamble and the University of Cincinnati, for instance, worked with Singapore Polytechnic to establish the Live Well Collaborative Singapore, an innovation research centre developing products for consumers aged 50 and above.

The city state also hosts the annual Ageing Asia Innovation Forum, which provides a platform for business, government and community leaders to collaborate on ideas for the silver market, from healthcare to technology and senior care.

Smaller elder-focused entrepreneurs can thrive in Singapore's start-up-friendly environment.

The annual Modern Aging programme, co-organised by Access Health International and NUS Enterprise, brings together students, researchers, health professionals and entrepreneurs to develop business plans, with a top prize of $50,000 in seed funding.

For forward-thinking consumer companies, there is no better time than now, and no better place than Singapore, to court the gleaming silver dollar.

The writer is director of consumer businesses at the Singapore Economic Development Board. The views expressed are his own.


'Uncle Sim' finds learning 'so simple'