CFA Institute Survey: Trust in Financial Services in Asia Pacific Needs Improvement When Compared to Other Industries

Investors in Asia Pacific place more importance than those in other regions on using technology when making investments

Singapore investors report significant drop in trust levels; cite retirement as top investment goal

SINGAPORE, JUNE 22, 2020 – CFA Institute, the global association of investment management professionals, released the fourth edition of its trust report, revealing that just under half of investors (49%) in Asia Pacific trust the financial services industry. The report, “Earning Investors’ Trust: How the Desire for Information, Innovation, and Influence is Shaping Client Relationships” surveyed 3,525 retail investors and 921 institutional investors across 15 markets globally in October and November 2019, measuring their trust level in the investment industry. The report showed that compared to their global counterparts, retail investors in Asia Pacific (APAC) are placing more importance on using technology when making investments, and that they are also the most confident in receiving payout benefits promised by their state-sponsored trust pensions at 71% (globally at 68%).

 The survey found 87% percent of retail investors in India said they trust the financial services industry, which puts the country at the top of the list of the 15 surveyed markets, while Australia ranked last (24%). Singapore ranked 11 (36%) and reported the biggest drop in trust levels (11 percentage points) compared to 2018.

 Proportion of retail investors who trust the financial industry across 15 global markets

Market 2020 2018 Change in % points
India 87% 71% +16
China 69% 70% – 1
UAE 60% 46% +14
South Africa 60% NA NA
Brazil 58% 48% +10
Mexico 57% NA NA
Hong Kong SAR 52% 35% +17
Canada 51% 51% 0
United States 43% 48% -5
France 39% 40% -1
Singapore 36% 47% -11
United Kingdom 33% 31% +2
Germany 28% 24% +4
Japan 27% NA NA
Australia 24% 31% -7

*NA – Not applicable because these markets were not surveyed in 2018.

More than 70% of APAC investors said they value information such as transparency of fees and reports that are easy to understand. They also prefer working with investment professionals with credentials from respected industry organizations. More than 60% said the increased use of technology makes them trust their advisers more. On whether they would invest in a fund that primarily uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) to select investment holdings, 46% of APAC retail investors (vs. 36% globally) said ‘yes’, 26% said ‘no’ (vs. 32% globally), while 28% were ‘unsure’ (vs. 32% globally). India and China investors were the most enthusiastic supporters of such A.I. technology (88% and 67% respectively), while those in developed economies such as the US (20% supportive), UK (30%), Singapore (33%), Hong Kong (30%), and Australia (16%) were far more cautious. Having influence and control over how they invest is becoming more important for investors in Asia Pacific, whether through fee negotiation, customization, or investing based on values, with over 80% of investors showing a high level of interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) Investing.

“This time of heightened market volatility sets up a very different path for those who will succeed in meeting their investment goals and those who will not. Fear and panic can obscure sound investment decision-making,” said Nick Pollard, Managing Director, Asia Pacific of CFA Institute.

 “Trust in the investment management industry during this challenging time is more valuable than ever. Investment professionals who understand and navigate the layers of investor trust will be better equipped to serve their clients and demonstrate how the investment industry can better serve society,” Pollard added.

 Key findings in Singapore

  1. The financial services industry earned the trust of 36% of retail investors surveyed (vs. 46% globally, 49% APAC), while trust levels in medicine (59%) and technology (65%) were higher than in any other industry.
  2. More retail investors value access to technology (54%) over access to humans (46%) for investment management. Globally, the preference is equal, with investors in APAC generally showing a stronger preference for technology, compared to counterparts in other regions.
  3. However, advice is still the domain of humans, with 49% (vs. 73% globally, 61% APAC) saying they trust recommendations from a human more than a robo-adviser, compared to 38% who trusted both equally and 13% who preferred a robo-adviser.
  4. Only one in five (19%) of retail investors said their financial advisers are transparent when it comes to the impact of market events (vs. 47% globally, 46% APAC, and likewise (19%) when it comes to fees (vs. 50% globally, 49% APAC). Among the 15 markets, Singapore retail investors were least optimistic about the general transparency of their financial advisors (17%), compared to their counterparts globally (53%) and in APAC (50%).
  5. Two in three (66%) retail investors ranked retirement as the Number One investment goal in 2020 (vs. 50% globally, 38% APAC), compared to 57% in 2018.
  6. Seven in 10 (71%) of respondents said they are confident that state-sponsored financial benefits for old age will pay out as promised (vs. 68% globally, 71% APAC).Yet only one in two (52%) trust that their investments will provide enough wealth so that they will not need to work past their desired retirement age (vs. 77% globally, 75% APAC). Among the 15 markets, only the Japanese (49%) were even less confident than Singapore investors about having enough for retirement.
  7. Only one in four (25%) retail investors here felt their investment firms would be very well or well-prepared to manage their portfolios during a financial crisis (vs. 49% globally, 46% APAC), down from 41% in 2018.
  8. Four in 10 (39%) retail investors said they were currently very interested in ESG investing, and the same percentage indicated potential interest in the future.
  9. Of those who expressed interest in ESG investing, more than half (57%) were motivated by the desire to express personal values or make a positive impact (vs. 47% globally, 45% APAC), compared to 19% who were driven by expectations of higher risk-adjusted returns, and the remaining one in four (24%) who cited both objectives.
  10. Among those with a values objective (or dual objectives), two in three (66%) were willing to forfeit some return in exchange for meeting the values objective. This indicates a significant shift in assessing investor outcomes to include risk, return, and impact.

Additional insights from Singapore focus group discussions

To gain further insight into the survey findings specific to Singapore, and also explore potential implications from the Covid-19 pandemic, CFA Society Singapore, a member society of CFA Institute, conducted four focus group discussions with over 30 local retail investors between May and June 2020.

 Trust level in the financial industry

Focus group participants suggested that the 11 percentage points decline in investors’ trust in the financial industry (from 47% in 2018 to 36% in 2020) could be due to higher incidences of household-name risk assets such as bonds and perpetuals losing significant value, and wider media coverage of regulatory enforcement actions on errant financial professionals. For instance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) issued its inaugural enforcement report in 2019 which was picked up by the media. Other reasons include expectation of retail investors towards higher investment returns given the fees levied on investment products. Focus group participants also believed that the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the trust deficit in the Singapore financial industry, as returns from risk assets turn negative.

“With the uncertainty brought on by the global spread of the coronavirus, investment management firms have the opportunity to demonstrate their skill and competence in shielding clients’ portfolios”, said Chan Choong Tho, CFA, CEO of CFA Society Singapore. “To assure clients of their care, concern and commitment, investment professionals would also want to engage with them more frequently. As we emerge from the crisis, we hope trust levels can increase on the back of such actions taken during this difficult period.”

Focus group participants agreed that much of how trust levels will change also depends on what financial professional do during this volatile and uncertain period. If financial professionals communicate and ‘hand hold’ investors, trust levels may be maintained or even increase after the Covid-19 crisis subsides, they said.

Innovation and technology

Focus group participants believe that of the 33% of retail investors in Singapore (versus 36% globally) who said they would invest in a fund that primarily uses A.I. to select investment holdings, most are likely to hail from younger age groups or have been trained in A.I. or related technologies. Participants also commented that investors want to know ”how artificial intelligence works” instead of being told by robo-advisory firms that it is “proprietary”. This is more so when the portfolio suffers losses.

Investors wants greater control

Focus group participants agreed with the survey findings that 54% of investors in Singapore would consider leaving their adviser after poor performance (vs. 42% globally, 40% APAC). Other significant reasons for firing advisors include fees.

In particular, focus group participants noted that high fees charged on investment products inevitably lead to high expectations of desired returns. Many also felt that financial advisers should build a relationship with clients before suggesting product offerings, especially when a new or different relationship manager has been assigned to a particular client.

Commenting on the results of the 2020 trust survey, Tan Lay Hoon, CFA, President of CFA Society Singapore, said, “The decline in trust levels in Singapore is disappointing.  For the past couple of years, we have been working to raise awareness on ethical conduct in the community. We will continue our work in this area, focusing on client facing professionals, to help strengthen investors’ trust in Singapore. Feedback from the focus group discussions suggests that we strengthen ethical awareness with product originators and developers to ensure that financial products offered in Singapore continue to go through stringent due diligence with investors’ interest at the forefront.”

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The Trust Survey was conducted with 3,525 retail investors (of which 100 were from Singapore) and 921 institutional investors in October and November 2019. The surveyed markets included Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mainland China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, UAE, UK, US, and Hong Kong SAR, China. Retail investors were aged 25 years or older with investible assets of at least US$100,000, except in India where the minimum was adjusted to 500,000 rupees. Institutional investors included individuals responsible for investment decisions with at least US$50 million assets under management, from public and private pension funds, endowments and foundations, insurance companies and sovereign wealth funds.

The supplementary focus group discussions in Singapore were held with retail investors in Singapore with a similar profile to respondents in the Trust Survey. Members of CFA Society Singapore also weighed in on the discussion in several dedicated focus group discussions. The supplementary sessions were conducted in May and June 2020.


To review the complete report and survey results, including market-by-market data, visit

About CFA Society Singapore

Founded in 1987, CFA Society Singapore is part of the worldwide network of CFA Institute member societies that lead the investment profession globally by promoting the highest standards of ethics, education and professional excellence for the ultimate benefit of society. CFA Society Singapore represents the interests of more than 3,800 investment professionals in Singapore through advocacy, education, events, and professional development.  CFA Institute, the global association of investment professionals, sets the standard for professional excellence and credentials and is a champion of ethical behavior in investment markets and a respected source of knowledge in the global financial community. There are more than 167,000 CFA charterholders worldwide in 164 markets. For more information visit and or follow us on LinkedIn at @CFA-Society-Singapore and on


Media contact person

Grace CHEN

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CFA Society Singapore

Email: [email protected]

Office: +65 6323 6679


CHAN Fook Leong, CFA

Executive Director, Advocacy

CFA Society Singapore

Email: [email protected]

Office: +65 6323 6679