Leadership lessons as MAS’ longest-serving chief
Earlier in September, Ravi Menon, the Managing Director (MD) of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), announced his intention to retire at the end of 2023. This will mark the end of a 13-year-long tenure, making Menon the longest-serving chief which the MAS has seen to date.
During his time as MD, Menon has led Singapore’s development as a fintech hub. This mission started back in 2015 with the Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme (FSTI), which saw S$225 million committed to the development of the country’s financial ecosystem. In 2020, another S$250 million was dedicated to the scheme to support technological innovation in finance.
As a result of these efforts, Singapore has gone from harbouring only 50 fintech firms in 2015 to over 1,000 today. The fintech market is growing rapidly in the country, with funding reaching an all-time high of US$4.1 billion in 2022.
At the Singapore Fintech Festival 2023 (SFF 2023) today, Menon spoke to MAS’ Chief FinTech Officer Sopnendu Mohanty and DBS’ Managing Director Tan Su Shan about some of the key takeaways from his time leading the MAS.
The spark which ignited fintech in Singapore
Menon reflects on 2015 as a time when there was a noticeable shift in perception towards technological innovation and the impact it’d have on the world going forward.
“Many technologies were coming together in a certain fashion. We just had this instinct that tech was going to be important. It was going to be transformative in ways we did not [yet] understand,” Menon says.
At this time, digital assets and blockchain technology were barely half a decade old. There was a strong need to explore and develop them further before their true value would become apparent. “By getting into it early, experimenting, and collaborating, we [felt that] we could take it somewhere. That’s how it started.”
“Eight years ago, I had no clue what any of this was,” Menon continues. He highlights that innovation is a process of continuous learning and pivoting.
“It’s not as if there is a very clear vision. The only mission was ‘let’s use technology to solve our problems’, ‘let’s use technology to create new opportunities’, ‘let’s use technology to improve people’s lives’.”
This method of experimentation – which embraced uncertainty and constant change – allowed MAS to pioneer the development of digital asset use-cases through initiatives such as Project Guardian. As a result, Singapore is now primed to upgrade its financial infrastructure using tokenised assets and programmable money.
A testament to strong leadership
Although Menon is quick to direct the credit to his team and Singapore’s broader fintech ecosystem, his leadership has played an integral role in realising Singapore’s fintech vision over the past decade.
In light of this, Mohanty highlights a few of the qualities which have allowed Menon to be a successful leader. First up is his unique calm nature. “I’ve never seen him angry,” says Mohanty – a remarkable feat after eight years working together in a line of work that is known to be stressful.
Elaborating on this, Menon explains, “When people are doing their best and putting their heart and soul into [their work], it’s very hard to get angry.” He stresses a belief that everyone means well. When you start with that assumption and understand others’ point of view, it removes any basis for anger.
Undoubtedly, this also has a lot to do with building a strong team – people who can be trusted to put their best foot forward. “One of the best decisions I made was hiring Sopnendu and building a team around him,” Menon says.
He stresses that this can often be true for others leading teams and organisations as well. “Sometimes, the best decisions we make are [those concerning people] – who we put together, who we put in charge.”
Moving on, Mohanty focuses on a quality which he refers to as ‘super shock absorber’. In an industry which is never short of surprises, Menon has always been able to absorb and roll with whatever is thrown his way.
“When they happen all the time, they don’t seem like shocks,” Menon explains. In the financial sector, that’s the nature of work. What’s important isn’t the shocks but the way you respond to them.”
“[It’s important to] have a sense of detachment,” Menon advises. “When everybody’s [panicking], be a witness and watch the scene. Take your mind away from the issue at hand. [That can help you] see much more clearly.”
Menon acknowledges that this isn’t always easy to do, but stresses on how useful this can be. “Many of us get caught up and that’s where we get flustered. Whenever you withdraw yourself, it works.”
Finally, Mohanty recounts Menon’s ability to masterfully summarise and recount what others have said. Menon explains that this is a quality derived from respecting everyone’s views and trying to understand their unique perspectives.
“Each perspective is valuable and the job of a leader is to see the connections and form a bigger picture.”
Featured Image Credit: Singapore Fintech Festival 2023