In our Men of SAFRA series, we sit down for a coffee and conversation with people of SAFRA who stand out for their contributions to the community. One such leader is Tin It Phong, Chairman of SAFRA’s Audit Committee (AC).
An active SAFRA member who has frequented SAFRA clubs with his wife and children, It Phong has also been working behind the scenes to ensure many internal controls and financial matters are well taken care of.
After he joined as a member of the AC in 2010, the Chartered Accountant has since become Chairman, and 12 rewarding years have passed by in a flash.
NSMan speaks to the veteran volunteer to find out more about his experiences at SAFRA.
His drink of choice: Kopi-o kosong
Q: When do you drink it? Why this drink – what do you like about it?
It Phong: I would have my kopi-o kosong in the morning. It’s like the warm-up to start the day, mentally and physically. I was introduced to kopi di lok (meaning no water added when poured from the coffee kettle) recently by a colleague. So for the afternoons, I have been drinking kopi di lok siew-dai, strong coffee with a bit of milk and sugar to hold me through afternoon meetings. I’m a local coffee lover, so it’s the first thing I miss when I’m overseas.
Q: What activities do you take part in when you visit SAFRA Punggol?
It Phong: I used to take my sons, who are in primary school, to hip hop classes at SAFRA Punggol, and I would enjoy my breakfast at Heavenly Wang while waiting for them. Nowadays, I still bring them to SAFRA for cycling or bowling. The boys are very active at this age and they enjoy trying out new activities. Before Covid, I was still going to the gym at Punggol, but I have not found time lately to fit it into my daily activities. Will definitely find time to fit gym workouts into my daily routine again.
Q: What is your current NS status – are you an NSman still serving your reservist?
It Phong: I was previously a Commando Medic and I have finished my reservist commitment. My Commando experience was one of the best times of my life. It was really “Boys to Men” as I went in not knowing what to expect. I had a hard time adapting initially; it was mentally and physically tough as there were a lot of punishments like push-ups and “run and touch the coconut tree”. But eventually, we understood that these sessions were not for nothing, but usually meant to inculcate a lesson or train us to be mentally and physically fit.
My campmates – which includes my trainers, platoon sergeant and commanders – and I just had a 30-year anniversary event recently. We have become lifelong friends as we went through a tough two-and-a-half years together.
Q: What prompted you to join SAFRA as a volunteer?
It Phong: A good friend who is an audit partner with a Big Four firm introduced me to the opportunity. I had previously volunteered as the Internal Auditor for the Basketball Association of Singapore, as I wanted to make a contribution outside of work. As a Chartered Accountant, I was privileged to be able to join the SAFRA Audit Committee in 2010. After a few years, I was appointed as the Chairman of the Audit Committee and also a Member of the Management Committee. Time flies, I’ve already served 12 years and in June this year, I shall be stepping down as Chairman and hope to contribute to SAFRA in other ways.
I had no real expectations of what volunteering with SAFRA would be like, but I am happy that it has been a very professional experience as SAFRA handles its internal controls and financial issues well. Just getting to be involved, my confidence in SAFRA as an organisation has grown. Many people on the outside may not know how we operate, and the amount of hard work and dedication involved.
Q: You have held senior finance roles in your career. How does your wealth of experience in finance help your work with SAFRA?
It Phong: I was previously Chief Financial Officer for public listed companies, which focused very much on risk management and internal controls. It is important for every organisation to have proper policies and processes so that the objectives are still achieved, even when exceptions happen. I am currently the Finance Director of Popular Book Co. I had never been in the retail industry before so this role has allowed me to learn about measures on retail performance and productivity, on top of the usual financials and corporate governance requirements. The knowledge also helps me to relate to SAFRA where the focus is on members’ and customers’ experiences. With my team, I have been able to help streamline and improve backend processes, internal controls and procedures, in relation to point-of-sales, cash handling, membership centres, booking systems, and so on.
Q: How has the scope of the SAFRA Audit Committee changed over the years?
It Phong: In the last 12 years, more things have been added to the scope of the Audit Committee, which is primarily concerned with internal controls and financial issues. With the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), we have needed to put more focus on ensuring compliance and there has also been a need for more IT audits, given the number of cyber threats these days. Hence, the AC has also needed to draft in more new members and more specialised talents.
Q: Has it been challenging to balance work, family and volunteering?
It Phong: As the AC and MC meet every quarter, that requires at least two meetings a quarter. I generally prefer face-to-face meetings, but if necessary, these meetings can also be virtual or hybrid. We also meet at special events, such as the AGM, and when there is a need, I would speak to the Head of Finance or the CEO of SAFRA directly, over the phone.
I used to travel much more in my previous jobs, so I had to make early arrangements to attend the meetings. Those were the times when video conferencing was not prevalent. But I have to say, I have found the last 12 years to be very rewarding. I also have to thank my family who have been very supportive when I had to be at the clubhouse for meetings.
Q: What advice would you have for SAFRA members to make the most out of SAFRA’s offerings?
It Phong: I belong to the generation where we usually join SAFRA after the active NS period, for reasons such as to use the gym and the swimming facilities, which are easily accessible and reasonably priced. Or, we frequent the clubs when our young kids start to use the facilities or enrichment centres. The current generation is different as their fathers probably have been through the army and brought them to the SAFRA clubhouses before. Recent initiatives also facilitate pre-enlistees to use the gyms for their pre-enlistment training. This generation should also see that SAFRA clubhouses enable them to create unique lifelong memories, especially family experiences, from a young age.
Q: How old are your children now and which SAFRA clubs do you frequent?
It Phong: My sons are currently 10 and 12 years old. The boys are very active. Apart from SAFRA Punggol, they love going to Toa Payoh, where their favourite place is the Kidz Amaze indoor playground, where I bring them every June and December school holidays. We even had a birthday party there before. As they grow older, I feel relieved as I can drop them off at the Kidz Amaze while I have coffee at Ya Kun Kaya Toast for hours.
SAFRA members’ children enjoy up to 50% off entrance rates at Kidz Amaze.
SAFRA members and affiliated members also enjoy 10% off all listed menu prices at Ya Kun Kaya Toast.
Q: What advice would you have for anyone thinking about volunteering at SAFRA?
It Phong: I have recruited one friend to the AC, but generally, the AC welcomes people with financial expertise from different roles and backgrounds. Apart from only Army personnel, we also try to recruit volunteers from Navy and Air Force, for a more well-rounded approach and diversity of perspectives.
Besides the AC, SAFRA has many different committees and interest groups that require volunteers to help. To me, it is like going back for reservist, contributing back to the service, but you get to meet and bond with new friends from other army units and batches.
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Main photo location: Jack’s Place @ SAFRA Punggol
Photographer: Frenchescar Lim
Hair and make-up: Nikki Fu | Stylist: CK
Outfits: H&M and interviewee’s own