How Singapore simplified pensions and financial planning

By Sean Nolan

Interview with Wong Yan Jun, Chief Information Officer of Singapore’s Central Provident Fund Board.

A writer for Financial Times asked her Instagram followers to describe their feelings towards pensions in a single word. “Confused”, “lost” and “uninformed” were the top answers.

But why does the mention of pensions have to elicit these feelings? Singapore's Central Provident Fund Board (CPFB) has taken on the task of making pensions simpler to understand.

Wong Yan Jun, Chief Information Officer of CPFB, shares how the agency’s redesigned website looks to simplify the pension process. He also shares how the organisation uses automation to allow staff to quickly develop new services.

Simplifying the citizen experience 

When CPFB set out to design its new website, it focused on feedback provided by citizens. They reported that finding the right information was challenging and it was often hidden in jargon that was difficult to understand, Wong shares.

The board recognised that pension matters are complex, and decided the best way to make it more accessible is through personalisation.

One way they do this is through data analytics, which helps it to understand the interests and motivations of users. For example, the board shows citizens who own property how much CPF they have used for it, and what their financial position will look like if they decide to sell it.

CPFB further simplified its website by overhauling the way that it presents information. Its website is now structured in themes that mirror a citizen’s life journey, like growing savings or buying a home. The board rewrote all content to avoid overly-complicated terms, Wong says.

The “vast majority of our CPFB members access our website via their mobile devices”, he highlights. The board ensured that the new website can work seamlessly no matter which platform citizens connect from.

In-house automation lab

Alongside CPFB’s new website, the organisation seeks to “transform our workforce and change the way we deliver and work”, says Wong. It is encouraging staff to upskill and adapt, so that no one “gets left behind in this fast-paced digitalisation”.

The organisation set up its own automation lab, which helps train staff to eliminate, improve or automate manual tasks that they face. One tool that the lab produced cut the time taken to create documents by 90 per cent.

The algorithm fills in legal document templates with information taken from simple digital forms. This automates the repetitive and tedious work faced by staff in creating these documents manually.

GovTech’s Open Government Products unit is now exploring how this tool can be shared across government. The application’s current programming language requires agencies to seek additional clearance, so the unit is exploring alternative ways of developing it.

CPFB is also training its staff to make them more comfortable with digital services. It has built up a group of non-tech staff who are now able to make changes to the website and collect insights from its data analytics, Wong shares. This sets “the foundation to accelerate the pace of our digitalisation”, he says.

Staff have benefitted from the website being entirely developed on the commercial cloud, he adds. They can focus more on developing digital services and less on maintaining physical hardware onsite, for example.

Long term financial planning

CPFB plans to support citizens in their long term financial planning, Wong says. “I would like to see that in the everyday decisions that CPF members make, planning for a purpose-driven retirement is a key consideration.”

In the future, citizens would be able to “make full use of personalised, timely and relevant insights from CPFB to secure a peace of mind for their retirement, even if they are not using CPF digital services directly,” he shares.

Government agencies are already providing personalised services. Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development uses data from the distribution of Covid-19 relief aid to follow up with families in need and direct them to additional support, GovInsider wrote.

The Ministry of Education created an AI tool to guide Singapore’s students on which topics they should study next. The algorithm can learn about individual students’ strengths and weaknesses, explained Aaron Loh, Divisional Director, Educational Technology at the Ministry.

“Accessible”, “personalised” and “simple” could become the words that citizens use to describe how they feel about pensions in the future. The use of data, automation and the cloud are making savings simple for citizens and public sector staff.

This article has been updated to clarify how the Open Government Products unit is collaborating with CPF to expand the use of the automation tool.