The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), in collaboration with its research subsidiary, the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), holds the Community in Review (CIR) seminar annually to discuss contemporary issues affecting the Malay/Muslim (MM) community in Singapore.


This year’s CIR will focus on the debt problem in Singapore, which has received considerable attention recently at the national level. The seminar aims to discuss the contrast between the macro and micro level perspectives on the severity of household debts and to highlight the challenges faced by affected families.

As an example, the authorities have introduced several measures to address concerns over household and individual leverage. However, it has been qualified that many of such measures are preventive in nature and were introduced to combat what could become a major problem in the future. This is corroborated by statistical data at the national level that suggest households and individuals are able to meet their debt obligations and have the necessary liquidity to service them. However, a contrasting view emerged amongst those dealing directly with households or individuals in debt.

CIR 2015 therefore aims to facilitate a discussion to gain insights into reconciling this apparent disparity between the macro and micro level perspectives. It also seeks to understand the extent of the severity of the consequences suffered by families mired in debt. The discussion is aimed at answering the question of whether there should be policy responses and/or proactive measures undertaken by relevant institutions to curb the phenomenon. Given the universal nature of the problem, the discussion will include perspectives beyond that of the Malay/Muslim community’s.

Details of the seminar are as follows:

Theme:                       Debt: A Clear and Present ‘Danger’ to Society?

Date:                           Saturday 14 February 2015

Time:                          9.45 am to 1.30 pm

                                  (Registration starts at 9.00 am)

Venue:                        Room 334, Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre

                                  (1 Raffles Boulevard, Suntec City)

Guest of Honour:        Mr Masagos Zulkifli

                                  Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs


Panel 1

Prof Sumit Agarwal
Vice-Dean of Research
Low Tuck Kwong Professor
National University of Singapore (NUS)

Asst Prof Walter Edgar Theseira
Assistant Professor
Division of Economics
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

Panel 2

Ms Renjala Balachandran
Head, SINDA Family Service Centre

Mr Saiful Nizam Jemain
Assistant Manager
Debt Advisory Centre (DAC)
Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP)

Mr Christopher Chuah
One Hope Centre

Mr Kuo How Nam
Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS)

Thank you to those who have registered. We look forward to seeing you at the seminar on Saturday, 14 Feb 2015.

Sumit Agarwal is the Vice-Dean (PhD & Research), Low Tuck Kwong Professor, Professor in the departments of Economics, Finance and Real Estate at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Sumit is also the Research Director at the Centre for Asset Management Research & Investments (CAMRI) at NUS Business School, where he spearheads the CAMRI Life-Cycle Saving and Investing in Asia Research Series. Previously, he was a senior financial economist in the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and prior to joining the Chicago Fed, he was a senior vice president and credit risk management executive in the Small Business Risk Solutions Group of Bank of America.

Sumit’s research interests include issues relating to financial institutions, household finance, behavioral finance, international finance, real estate markets and capital markets. He has published over fifty research articles in journals like the American Economic Review, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Financial Economics, Review of Financial Studies among others. Additionally, he has co-edited a collected volume on Household Credit Usage: Personal Debt and Mortgages. He writes regular op-eds in The Straits Times and is featured on various media outlets like the BBC, CNBC, and FOX on issues relating to finance, banking, and real estate markets. Sumit`s research is widely cited in leading newspapers and magazines like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, and the U.S Presidents Report to Congress. He also runs a blog on household financial decision making called Smart Finance.

Dr Agarwal has won various prestigious awards like the Paul Samuelson TIAA-CREF certificate of excellence, the Terker Family Prizes in Investment Research Award from the Wharton School of Business, the Glucksman Institute Research Award from New York University and grants from the Russell Sage Foundation and Sloan Foundation.

Dr Agarwal has been invited to present his research at many renowned universities such Columbia University, Northwestern University, University of California Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, as well as institutions and central banks namely the IMF, World Bank, European Central Bank, European Union, Dutch Central Bank, Riksbank, OCC, and the Federal Reserve Banks of Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. He has consulted with the World Bank, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, OCC, the Reserve Bank of India and Bank of America. He has also served as an adjunct professor in the finance department at George Washington University, DePaul University and the Indian School of Business. Agarwal received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Walter Edgar Theseira is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Nanyang Technological University. He holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago, and earned his Ph.D. in Applied Economics and Managerial Science from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Prior to that, he was educated at the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).

His research and teaching focuses on applied microeconomics, behavioural, and experimental economics. His research has included the determinants of structural pension reform; how online markets are changing lending and charitable giving; discrimination; and gender differences in the labour market. His research has been presented at numerous international conferences and cited in a variety of media outlets. His teaching experience covers both fundamental principles of economics, and more advanced field courses in public economics, and urban economics.

He is the academic co-investigator of the Singapore Retirement and Health Survey, a 10-year whole-of-government effort led by the Central Provident Fund Board to study retirement dynamics amongst a longitudinal sample of close to 10,000 older Singaporeans. This study will fill in critical gaps in our knowledge concerning elderly Singaporeans and is vital for future research and policy on the aging population in Singapore. He is also a research consultant with the Economist Service of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, where he advises on the technical design and execution of empirical policy research, on education policy, social mobility, trade policy, and other areas. Other public sector collaborations include studies of the free travel programme and transport choice behaviour with the Land Transport Authority, and social transfers with the Ministry of Finance. His comments on policy issues and the Singapore economy are regularly featured in the print media and on television.

Since 2010, he has been Honorary Secretary of the Economic Society of Singapore. He helps organise dialogues, forums, and collaborations that promote economic thought and analysis to a wide audience, particularly junior college educators and the youth. He represents the interests of the Society to external organisations including international economic associations and the Federation of ASEAN economic associations.

He is presently serving on the Government Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Trade and Industry as a Resource Panel Member. He has also provided expert inputs for the Ministry of Education as a member of the H3 Economics Syllabus Development Committee, and presented his policy-relevant Singapore research findings on motorist behaviour and labour market discrimination to government panels at the Ministerial and Permanent Secretary levels.

Kuo How Nam has over 30 years of banking experience and his last appointment before retirement was Executive Vice President of Operations with a local bank.  He is currently a board member of Ren Ci Hospital & Medicare Centre and the President of Credit Counselling Singapore.

Saiful Nizam Jemain heads the Debt Advisory Centre (DAC) of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), which offers advisory services to individuals facing debt issues. Saiful is a Registered Social Worker and has been involved in social work for five years. He began his foray into social work as a case officer with the Social Services Division of AMP, working closely with low-income families and providing support to these families to achieve self-reliance.

When the DAC was launched in April 2013, Saiful became heavily involved in the casework with DAC clients and also conducted support group sessions for these clients, who saw the sessions as a way of gaining support and confidence to overcome their debt problems. Together with his team, the DAC has served more than 1,000 clients since its launch.

Christopher Chuah is the President of One Hope Centre, an IPC which provides counselling services to people caught in gambling-related addictions. In addition, Mr Chuah had served previously as a board member of the National Kidney Foundation and is current President of Cuesports Singapore, a National Sports Association. He is a lawyer by training and a partner in the law firm of Wong Partnership LLP.


Azmoon: Pendapatan naik tapi PMET turut berisiko terjerat hutang

Turut dibentang di sidang adalah kajian mengenai golongan yang meminjam wang dari pemiutang berlesen

Ervina Mohd Jamil, Berita Minggu, 15 Feburari 2015

Anggota masyarakat yang berpendapatan lebih tinggi, termasuk golongan profesional, pengurus, eksekutif dan teknisyen (PMET), juga menghadapi risiko terjerat dalam masalah hutang meskipun mereka umum`nya dapat menjelaskan hutang mereka.

Ini kerana memandangkan golongan tersebut mempunyai akses kepada kredit, mereka juga boleh menghadapi masalah meminjam dengan berlebihan dalam pasaran hartanah atau hutang kad kredit.

Berkata demikian dalam ucapannya di seminar Community In Review anjuran Angkatan Karyawa Islam (AMP) bersama sayap kajiannya, Pusat Penyelidikan Hal Ehwal Islam dan Melayu (Rima), pengerusi AMP Encik Azmoon Ahmad, menjelaskan dengan pendapatan median masyarakat Melayu yang telah meningkat kepada $3,844 pada 2010 daripada $2,709 pada 2000, ia memberi bayangan bahawa keadaan kewangan mereka juga baik.

Bagaimanapun, tinjauan yang dijalankan AMP ke atas keluarga Melayu tahun lalu menunjukkan bahawa perbelanjaan mereka juga telah meningkat.

Justeru, perbelanjaan lebih tinggi ini mungkin ditampung pembelian dengan kredit.

Beliau merujuk kepada trend perbelanjaan keluarga Melayu. Antara 1992 dengan 2008, kadar pemilikan barangan seperti kereta, alat hawa-dingin dan komputer dalam keluarga Melayu meningkat dengan pesat.

“Trend ini menunjukkan perbelanjaan yang meningkat, yang mungkin atau mungkin tidak disokong oleh kenaikan pendapatan keluarga Melayu dalam tempoh yang sama.

“Perbelanjaan lebih tinggi ini kemungkinan disokong oleh pembelian menerusi kredit, sekali gus meningkatkan tanggungan kewangan keluarga,” ujar Encik Azmoon, dalam seminar yang membincangkan masalah hutang di Singapura yang diadakan di Pusat Konvensyen Suntec semalam.

Dalam pada itu, salah seorang penceramah di seminar itu, Penolong Profesor Ekonomi Universiti Teknologi Nanyang (NTU) Walter Edgar Theseira membentangkan kajiannya mengenai penduduk yang meminjam wang daripada pemiutang berlesen.

Sebanyak 85 peratus peminjam merupakan warga Singapura sementara yang lain merupakan penduduk tetap (PR) dan warga asing.

Sebahagian besar peminjam wang daripada pemiutang berlesen meraih pendapatan lebih rendah daripada pendapatan median.

“Ini bermakna sebilangan besar adalah golongan berpendapatan rendah yang tidak memiliki akses kepada sumber kredit bank…Itulah sebab mereka meminjam daripada pemiutang berlesen,” kata Profesor Theseira.


Consumer debt among Malay households a concern: AMP 

Walter Sim, Sunday Times, 15 February 2015

Malay households in Singapore may be earning more money now, but they are also spending more.

As a result, their debt situation, while not alarming, is a cause for concern, said Mr Azmoon Ahmad, chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) yesterday.

While household balance sheets remain generally healthy, he added, figures from a survey the AMP conducted last year showed “increased expenditure, which may or may not be supported by real income gains”.

Speaking at the association’s annual Community In Review seminar, which focused on debt this year, Mr Azmoon pointed out that the median income for Malays had risen from $2,709 in 2000 to $3,844 in 2010.

This “creates the impression that they are doing well financially”, but does not account for how their liabilities have changed, he said.

Citing the AMP survey, he said increased spending has become “entrenched”, and “even in times of financial difficulties, households may not revert to initial levels of consumption”.

For example, 83 per cent said they would not unsubscribe from their cable television services in bad times.

Other panellists at the forum said overspending due to lifestyle preferences is the most common cause of debt.

Mr Azmoon said: “Higher expenditure could be supported by purchases made on credit, thus increasing the liabilities.”

He also warned that the problem was not restricted to low-income families. PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) are a “risk group”, he said, as they have easy access to credit and thus may borrow above their means.

National University of Singapore economist Sumit Agarwal, also a panellist, cited a graph showing that Malays have the highest credit card debt although they have the smallest credit card spending compared with other races.

Moneylenders, both licensed and unlicensed, also contribute to the problem because they do not offer stringent safeguards like those of banks, the panellists said. They suggested that more financial literacy camps be conducted.

Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, Singapore’s top Muslim religious leader, urged prudence when the panel sought his comments. “It is an ethical issue of behaviour, attitude and self-responsibility of trying your best to limit borrowing only for necessities – not for lavish purposes – and the commitment of paying it back.”

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who also spoke at the forum, said: “Even though our debt problem is not endemic, it is something we need to constantly pay attention to.”

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