Secure Retirement, Stable Finances

Conceptualising policies, strategic planning and affecting lives – these are all in a day’s work for CPF Board scholar Mr Desmond Chew.

By Nabilah Husna A. Rahman

Every month, 34.5% of an employee’s salary is saved in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) account, from which they can withdraw from the age of 55. This retirement savings scheme has been allowing workers to seamlessly transit into retirement with financial stability.

Before the CPF Board was set up in 1955, Singaporean citizens did not have a mandatory savings scheme, putting the nation in the vulnerable position of possibly turning into a welfare state. Now, the much familiar CPF scheme has been developed to become the backbone of Singapore’s healthcare, housing and retirement systems, and is a key instrument for overall national growth.

Positive difference
To CPF Board scholar Desmond Chew, work in the CPF Board provides him the perfect podium to positively impact the lives of Singaporeans.

“It’s a matter of being able to do something meaningful that impacts everyone around you,” says the former Economics student, who graduated from INSEAD with a Master’s in Business Administration in 2005.

Since joining the Board upon his graduation, Desmond has been rotated to work in various departments within the organisation, starting off in the Policy and Research Department as a Senior Executive. After nine years with the CPF Board, the 34-year-old went a full circle and is now the Senior Deputy Director in the same department, leading a team to develop and formulate CPF policies.

“I think my postings have exposed me to policy, backend and operational aspects of the job,” he shares. “It gives me a more well-rounded development, and allows me to see things from a wider perspective. When I was in operations, I learnt to see things from a more practical and view, allowing me to work with members of public and frontline staff and managers, and understand them better. When I was posted back to do policy work, I was able to formulate better policies, instead of just building castles in the air.”

“Building castles in the air” is far from what Desmond and his team get up to on a daily basis. On the contrary, life in the CPF Board constantly tests him professionally. “When there are issues to be tackled and resolved, we often have to do so in a very short period of time. However, we can’t take short-cuts because any mistake we make perpetuates downstream.”

Nationwide impact
In 2004, when he was heading the Agency Projects Department, Desmond was involved in strategising and implementing the new Government-Paid Maternity Leave scheme. “We had three months to work out the various policies, rules and systems and then roll it out,” he recalls. Working for the better part of August to October, Desmond saw through the whole process of translating a policy on paper into a functional scheme.

“It’s very amazing to look back and say we did it,” he laughs. “We didn’t feel tired when we’re working on it, because the whole team had and believed in a common objective, which is to roll out the scheme within the deadline.”

More recently, Desmond worked on the CPF LIFE scheme, which he describes as a “massive project”, stretching from 2006 to September 2009. Moreover, work wasn’t just confined to the familiarity of their office desks.

“We had study trips to see what we can bring back to Singapore, and conducted focus groups,” Desmond explains. “We met the various stakeholders, the industry professionals, and policy makers in other parts of the government.”

“There was a lot of work and coordination required. I felt a great sense of achievement when the scheme was first rolled out, and I think everyone in the team who worked on the project will remember it for the rest of their lives,” he enthuses.

The hard work required by Desmond’s work at the CPF Board is fuelled by his love for the job. And Desmond feels that this is essential for any career in the public service. “To be a public officer, you have to have a passion to do something for the people. If you have this within you, the other things come easily.”

“One thing I tell the officers is that you must be able to think systematically. I also tell them that one needs to have a sense of accountability, integrity, responsibility and initiative,” Desmond adds.

For aspiring scholars considering a career with the CPF Board, Desmond advises, “Everybody knows about the CPF – it’s a system that impacts the life of an individual, from the point of birth, all the way to retirement. In CPF Board, you get exposure of various degrees of work – work here caters to both the generalists and the specialists. A career with CPF Board will certainly offer you both scope and breadth.”

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