by Ernie B. Calucag
Protecting the humble retail investor in Singapore has become synonymous with Securities Investors Association (Singapore) or SIAS and the man behind it, Mr David Gerald.
SIAS was founded in June 1999 to pursue the legitimate rights of investors in the CLOB market. “We initiated a new model of resolving issues between shareholders and companies. We adapted the ‘in the boardroom and not the courtroom’ strategy which has proven to be a very responsible and reasonable approach in our efforts to resolve disputes,” Mr Gerald said in an interview with Biz Daily.
At present day, SIAS remains the foremost proponent of investors’ rights. The lobby group has also expanded its work beyond promoting investors’ interest, to promoting corporate governance and spearheading initiatives to educate the general public on financial matters.
Around 70,000 SIAS members have benefited from the group’s investor education programmes which are targeted at all levels, from the beginner to the more initiated investor.
“The Lehman Brothers (collapse) was an eye opener because many investors did not realise the hidden risks involved in these structured products. SIAS has therefore seen the importance of investor education in helping Singaporeans to grow their wealth through investing. But they have to do it with knowledge as investing without knowledge is a gamble,” the SIAS head said.
Singapore’s reputation as a trusted and competitive international financial centre is built on its strong corporate governance standards and practices. On this, SIAS has been widely credited as the prime mover of good corporate governance in the country, and soon, outside Singapore, as it inspires foreign institutions with its efforts to promote good governance and transparency.
In the last six months alone, SIAS received visitations from the US Department of Treasury and the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament to explore the corporate governance initiatives the group has undertaken.
“They were particularly happy with the way we are promoting corporate governance and working with listed companies’ boards and senior management to solve corporate governance issues and how we recognise the companies that excel in corporate governance practices and yet maintaining investor relations peace in Singapore,” narrated Mr Gerald.
“In fact, the Chairperson of the delegates from Europe said that they would like to copy our corporate governance initiatives of delegating a page for top 100 listed companies displaying their corporate governance practices,” he added.
The international recognition doesn’t stop there, as other groups have taken notice of SIAS’ unique brand of shareholder activism. While providing steadfast and independent representation of investors’ interests, the group’s approach has been to engage in firm, measured and constructive discussions with relevant stakeholders to resolve issues.
“Our model of shareholder activism is very unique in that we don’t carry placards or kick or bang tables. In some countries, that is what they do. For us, we believe in tripartism – working with minority investors, regulators and the companies’ board. We have resolved issues peacefully and on a win-win basis and that model has impressed other countries,” said the SIAS head.
At the end of this month, Mr Gerald will head to the Philippines to grace the induction of its SharePHIL Board of Trustees, an organisation which is inspired by the success of SIAS in Singapore.
“I don’t believe in taking a contentious approach to issues unless absolutely necessary. We prefer conciliatory approach. Litigation is very expensive, although shareholders have quite often asked for that option I have avoided it, because it is a difficult process,” he added.
The SIAS head has also been invited to Korea (IFIAR Plenary Meeting) and US (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) to speak on critical issues regarding audit and how critical it is in avoiding corporate scandals.
“The concern is how to avoid corporate scandals using the audit process effectively. They wanted to hear an investor body in Asia on how to improve audit quality and how auditors can be independent,” Mr Gerald noted.
With his international engagements taking most of his busy schedule this year, Mr Gerald said he has no reasons to complain as this inspires him to inspire others, even those outside Singapore.