Thinking out of the box to open automated vault facility, Straits Times page B10

Thursday, Jun 04 2015 11:52 AM




THINKING OUT OF THE BOX TO OPEN AUTOMATED VAULT FACILITY VauIt@268 executive director wanted a product that S’pore didn’t have yet.

WHEN Ms Charlene Kang, 43, was asked what she did by training, she said: “I have always been a person who can do anything.”

She calls herself a “jack of all trades”. When she first planned Vault@268 five years ago, she had already been working part-time in human resources for about five years.

Before that, she was a facility manager at Trademart Singapore for a period and a project coordinator at a lighting company, where she helped manage the renovation of the Pavilion Hotel.

She also studied fashion design and merchandising at Lasalle International Fashion School for a while.

Ms King opened her facility, the first fully automated safe-deposit box system in Singapore, in April. In just a month, 63 of the 2,000 or so boxes located at 268 Orchard Road, the former location of Yen San Building, had been rented out.

The executive director of VauIt@268, Ms Kang says that she started the facility because she needed to “find a product that Singapore didn’t have yet”.

She saw that there was a demand for the service, as banks had been closing down their safe-deposit facilities.

She chanced upon the technology she needed for her business five years ago, while travelling in London, and quickly began searching for the supplier.

She also consulted her mentors, including her former employer at security firm Secom.

She says: “Once I’m fascinated with something, I’ll be yakking away, broadcasting what’s excited me.”

Ms Kang and her team of seven workers rely on robots rather than attendants or security guards.

Customers access the facility with a security card and biometric identification. They enter a kiosk where they key in their PIN and their safe-deposit box is brought to them via a fully automated system. The glass door of the kiosk even turns opaque for privacy.

Ms Kang says the system improves the security of the facility; machines are more trustworthy than human attendants: “If anything happens, they go, ‘oh, this is the password, you can tie me up, put me to one side, just don’t harm me’, you know?” she jokes.

She says her customers store a variety of items in her facility. Some leave valuable items like cash, wealth planners’ documents and gold jewellery. Others store “low-cost” items which are hard or impossible to replace such as graduation certificates, childhood passports, or their grandparents’ World War II medals.

The vault also offers a “custodian” service in the case of wills. Ms Kang provides this free service because of her own experience. Her mother died when she was 13 years old and left her will in a bank’s safe-deposit box. That facility had closed in 2007 and she could not access her mother’s will for about a month.

Dealing with bank staff meant going through various departments. In the end, her family finally obtained the help of “someone higher up in the bank” to get the box opened for her.

Ms Kang’s service today aims to avoid such situations. If a customer dies, his appointed executor can retrieve his will from the vault with the necessary papers.

Ms Kang, who studied at Singapore Chinese Girls’ School before attending fashion school, said she had gone on to study arts and communications in Britain, but returned after six months without a degree. “It was too cold”, she jokes. “I was in the library with hot water bottles tied to my head and under my armpits.”

But she says not having a degree has never hindered her career.

“Bosses are always looking for very credible staff to handle certain parts of their businesses,” she says, “and if I want to go out and find a job at any point in time, I have no difficulty.”

When she was working in human resources, she often found that “the candidates without university qualifications were the ones who actually showed more potential.

“I feel that every single person must build up trustworthiness, charisma, integrity …” says Ms Kang

“At the end of the day, doing business means you need to be streetwise.”

Ariel Lim, 1st June 2015