Finding The Silver Lining: Business Opportunities for Ageing in Singapore

Insights from Sustainable Employment Pledge Partner, Ageing Asia

Singapore’s ageing population is affecting businesses. The workforce is tightening and spending trends are also changing with emerging affluent elderly market segments.

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) launched the Sustainable Employment Pledge on 22 November 2019. A special report titled ‘Sustainable Employment – Achieving Purposeful Business Success Together’ was also published which advocated for businesses to employ sustainable employment practices for three groups, including mature workers as well as the less well-off and those vulnerable to job disruptions in Singapore.

Following a panel discussion ‘Finding The Silver Lining: Opportunities For Ageing In Singapore’, we catch up with Sustainable Employment Pledge Partner and panellist Ms Janice Chia,   the Founder and Managing Director of Ageing Asia and Aspire55, to find out more.

How did you find out about the Sustainable Employment initiative, and what motivated Ageing Asia to become a Sustainable Employment Pledge Partner?

I got to know about the initiative through SBF and decided to come aboard as a Pledge Partner because it resonates with my company’s mission, which is to change the way future generations care for the elderly in Asia Pacific. At 30, after a career in media and communications, I decided to set up my own start-up. Since I was close to my grandmother and witnessed her ageing journey and having noticed the growing proportion of elderly people worldwide, I decided to dedicate myself to engaging the business community to create better products and services that will enable healthy, independent and dignified ageing. I firmly believe that the social challenges of ageing can be transformed into economic opportunities for businesses.

Furthermore, Ageing Asia also organises industry development networking events and industry training programmes that focus on care for older adults. As a Social Enterprise, each of the events organised by Ageing Asia allocates at least 10% of its revenue to sponsor participants in not-for-profit sectors with free tickets and discounted rates to attend the event.

While Ageing Asia is B2B or business to business, my other company, Aspire55 is B2C or business to consumer. The latter is known as Asia’s first “virtual retirement village”. It offers social, health, and care services and is more of a clubhouse where members congregate for activities, unlike the normal retirement villages that also offer residential facilities.

Educating the elderly on ageing well.

Based on your experience, what attracts mature workers and what concrete steps can businesses take to seize the opportunities to extend their workforce and address new market segments?

A good proportion of the present Silver Generation comprises Baby Boomers in their 60s and 70s and these individuals live by the phrase ‘Live thrifty, retire wealthy’. These mature workers desire a job on their terms, which might include flexibility, and project-based assignments instead of full-time employment. Since they are financially stable, they often want occupations that serve a purpose and help the community.

What proportion of your workforce are mature workers?

Ageing Asia’s headcount is eight with one 69-year-old account staff. Aspire55 has a 62-year-old gym instructor who amazes members with his physical prowess. By working with these more experienced staff, younger colleagues can learn how to communicate with senior family members.

Unlike the old days, where we grow up in the same house with our grandparents, uncles and aunties, the younger generation is likely to live in separate homes, or even overseas. As such, having senior colleagues teaches them how to interact with their own elderly family members.

Based on your experience, what concrete steps can businesses take to seize the opportunities offered by Asia Pacific’s silver economy market which is projected to be worth US$4.6 trillion (S$6.2 trillion) by 2025?

The Silver Generation is affluent and their interests include travel, wellness, and products designed for their specific needs. When travelling, they would prefer longer holidays of two weeks or more. They want senior-friendly airports. In Japan, they can roll their luggage onto the baggage conveyor belts. For products, they want well-designed dual purpose accessories such as toilet roll holders that double up as grab bars.

In Japan, centuries-old firms have long set up units to design products for seniors. They have cars where the seats swivel to allow easier entry and exit for elderly folks. Singapore businesses should follow their lead. For example, the Aspire55 gym issues smart cards to ensure that equipment settings adjust automatically to the user and every member’s performance on a machine is tracked by software, so our trainers can customise to each person’s regimen.

Beyond the equipment and technologies, Aspire55 members say what makes the gym stand out from its competitors is its homely environment and the caring attitude of the trainers. They are welcomed to the gym the same way we welcome our uncles and aunties into our homes and are accompanied to the door when they leave, the same way we say goodbye to elderly relatives.

It may be hard to earn their first dollar but once they see that you are sincere and deliver, they become very loyal clients. Even during the pandemic, many of them stayed on and adapted to our online exercise sessions.

Age is no barrier to keeping fit.

Share some tips: What was the key to the success of instilling a culture of inclusiveness within your businesses, and how can other companies do the same?

Get staff that can interact and relate to seniors. Better still; hire a few elderly people to inspire the ‘If he can do it, so can I’ mentality. Treat them like family. Also, keep an eye out on what’s successful overseas and adapt their best practices. Concepts that are working well in Amsterdam or London can be adapted to the Singapore market especially programmes that promote good physical, psychological, and social functioning in old age. Since we started Aspire55, we have received inquiries from Australia, China and Malaysia about our business model.

We make our members feel at home and we try our best to put a smile on their faces. We believe in creating purpose and happy moments in their lives.