Singapore’s main lifestyle drawcards were once only of the serious sort: good schools, upmarket apartments, excellent public transport, and clean air (at least compared with Hong Kong). These days, however, bankers are finding new, more frivolous, reasons to adore the city-state. Singapore boasts the densest millionaire population in the world - and there are some new attractions to keep those rich professionals occupied, from $25,000 cocktails to art gallery openings.
“Traditionally, Singapore relied on tax incentives, sound regulation and ‘family-friendly’ lifestyles to attract banking talent,” said Clifford Lee, managing director and head of fixed income at DBS, Singapore’s biggest bank. “But now we’ve largely achieved these aspects, the more recent focus has been on making Singapore a more vibrant and exciting place to live.”
Initial attempts to soup up Singapore received strong government support. Marina Bay Sands, a casino, shopping, conference, museum, theatre and hotel complex famous for its rooftop infinity swimming pool, opened in 2010, while the Singapore Grand Prix Formula 1 motor race has been drawing crowds to its flood-lit street circuit since 2008.
But it's not just large projects like casinos and the recently opened Gardens by the Bay, a horticultural Disney Land, that are helping Singapore shed its former staid reputation. “The weekend before last you could choose from sipping champagne in the VIP lounge of the Singapore Yacht Show, tasting a chocolate-inspired steak sauce at the World Gourmet Summit, experiencing a pop-up cocktail, cigar and dining event at ClubVivre, or attending one of eight gallery openings in the newly-revamped Gillman Barracks and Tanjong Pagar Distripark arts centres,” said Virginia Brumby, director of Survival Chic, a lifestyle members group for executives in Singapore.
Brumby said the range and vibrancy of entertainment options are making bankers and other professionals want to stay. “People will move here for their careers, but the decision to stay is definitely affected by the quality of the lifestyle,” she said.
Bankers in Singapore often start their evenings at the many new bars which grace the Marina Bay Financial Centre, a glitzy high-rise enclave which is also home to Standard Chartered, DBS, Societe Generale, Barclays, Macquarie Group and Nomura Securities. “They can enjoy amazing views of the bay and watch the setting sun glinting off the casino,” said Tony Latimer, an executive coach at the Asia-Pacific Corporate Coach Institute in Singapore. “Compare that to drinking at roadside bars in Hong Kong, along dirty, traffic-laden back streets, sucking in the fumes of diesel buses and taxis,” he added.
Singapore’s drinking scene – once dominated by dowdy pubs like Harry’s, the favourite 1990s hangout of rogue trader Nick Leeson – has transformed itself in recent years. “We've moved from friendly but basic bars to funky watering holes like Japanese-style Kinki, and New-York inspired cocktail joints like 28 Hong Kong Street,” said Brumby from Survival Chic. Then there’s The Library, one of a new crop of “secret” watering holes that are too cool to even have signboards.
For the ultimate indulgence, try Pangaea, a posh club where bankers can spend their bonuses on $25,000 cocktails that come with one-carat diamonds. “It’s upped the ante, and the prices, for clubbing here, and has attracted serious international jetsetters with limitless credit cards,” said Brumby.
While some financial professionals still prefer to dine in Singapore’s traditional hawker centres, open-air food courts selling cheap and tasty local delights, a plethora of new high-end restaurants is helping many of them part with their cash.
“Restaurateurs in Singapore now have the money and the daring to push the envelope,” said Brumby. “That's what’s attracted international chefs like Tippling Club's Ryan Clift and up-and-coming chefs like Alejandro Luna of Sur or Keystone's Immanuel Tee. The local talent is also considerable, with the amazing Janice Wong of 2am: Dessert Bar, and the eponymous Andre Chiang,” she added.
Not everyone is convinced that Singapore has the entertainment clout to compete with other major financial centres. “We lack a New York, London or Hong Kong 'underbelly' here – fringe theatre, live music on spec in bars, indie dance clubs,” said Emma Boyd, director of Singapore consultancy Pinstripe Business Solutions and a manager at the Financial Women's Association Singapore. “And at the top end, Singapore is a collection of formatted experiences, which are nice once in a while when you're escaping the kids for an evening,” she said.