The five Cs of Singapore is a phrase that is often used to refer to the culture of materialism within the city-state. The origins of this phrase stems from an observational joke about the aspirations and goals of Singaporeans to obtain material possessions in an effort to impress others and flaunt status.

The five Cs include cash, car, credit card, condominium, and country club membership. While Singapore is often the butt of the joke with regards to this phrase, it is by no means the exclusive subject of it. To a lesser, and some might argue greater extent, the five Cs could be said to apply to almost all Southeast Asian nations, especially Malaysia.

Cash is self-explanatory. Though in this case, it is less about physical currency and more about financial stability and security. Affluence is often seen as a measure of personal worth and success across Southeast Asia.

Owning a car, especially imported ones, in Singapore or Malaysia is another measure of status. High taxation on the import and ownership of motor vehicle provides car owners with another avenue to flaunt wealth and power.

Credit cards are a visible symbol of success. Of course, the higher the limit on ones card, the more they are able to boast.

In land-strapped Singapore, a fancy condominium unit is viewed with envy due to how expensive it can get to purchase or rent one. Freestanding houses are even rarer and thus signify greater affluence. Though this is not as prominently featured in other Southeast Asian countries, luxury condos and houses are still viewed as symbols of status outside of Singapore as well.

Country clubs are few and far between. Thus, memberships are expensive and they provide a feeling of exclusivity rarely found elsewhere. This unsurprisingly leads many to view membership as symbols of power and wealth.

As you can see from the explanation above, Southeast Asians have had a rather materialistic view on success for many decades. However, new research has revealed that a change is soon to come.

According to independent research commissioned by Tigerhall, a majority of Singaporean workers are beginning to redefine the five Cs. While cash remains a part of the list, the remaining four Cs have changed completely. The new five Cs now comprise of cash, career, cultural, credibility, and convenience.

Graphic courtesy of Tigerhall

Cash is still king with regards to financial security as a status symbol, but now establishing a good career is seen as just important as well. According to Tigerhall’s report, his trend was especially apparent among Singaporeans at the beginning of their career.

Singaporeans are also now putting more stock into developing a cultural proficiency through opportunities such as travelling the world, with millennial respondents once again driving this trend.

With the rise of information and communication technology, credibility has become a huge factor that affects perception of wealth. The majority of workers believe that it was important to command the belief and trust among the people around them.

Finally, in the age of e-commerce, and food delivery apps, convenience from products and services was the final addition to the new set of 5Cs. The world is getting more complicated and taking up more of our time. As such, every little bit of convenience helps.

While the new set of five Cs explored above pertain to exclusively to Singapore, the truth is that this trend can be seen throughout Southeast Asia, just like the old set of five Cs. The world is becoming increasingly homogenised and the values of the younger generations throughout the world are becoming increasingly similar.

When asked how employers could help encourage employees to attain these new five Cs, Nellie Wartoft, CEO of Tigerhall, had this to say: “The new definition of 5Cs highlights a significant shift in thinking and goals among Singaporeans, from a materialistic outlook to one fueled by ambition and personal growth. Playing a key role in helping employees develop and progress in their lives will therefore go a long way in encouraging them to achieve their goals.”

“Through consistent communication, for instance, employers can better understand their subordinates’ goals and think about how to help them grow in the company. It is also important for employers to equip their talents with the right opportunities and tools that can help them develop and advance in their careers,” she continued.


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