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What banks in Singapore really think about hiring more Singaporean bankers

Banks in Singapore are now being forced to provide water-tight justifications and carry out onerous due diligence for every foreign candidate they want to hire, ahead of a new law encouraging them to recruit more locals.

Singapore’s Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), which comes into force on 1 August, requires companies who want to apply for an Employment Pass (work visa for a foreigner) to first advertise the vacancy to Singaporeans on a new government-run online “Jobs Bank” for at least 14 days. Roles paying more than S$144k (US$115k) a year and employers with 25 or fewer staff are exempt.

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More rejections

Banks in Singapore have already noticed an increase this year in the amount of Employment Pass (EP) applications being rejected by the city state’s Ministry of Manpower (MoM), according to the 14 senior HR professionals from local and international financial institutions who attended a recent eFinancialCareers roundtable discussion. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country's financial regulator, is also putting pressure on banks to implement the FCF.

Most commonly, EPs are being turned down for more junior applicants whose annual base salaries are below the S$98k threshold needed to obtain an elite “P1-level” pass – the work visa given to most white-collar professionals. “In a couple of recent instances, we’ve been forced to increase the candidate’s pay in order to get them an EP, because below the threshold MoM is less likely to think that their skills are needed in Singapore,” said one of the roundtable delegates, all of whom asked not to be named in this report.

In some cases, however, even P1 applications aren’t being approved – a sign, say roundtable attendees, that the spirit of the FCF is taking affect even before its rules officially become law. “It’s happened to us this year,” said a delegate from an Asia Pacific bank. “We are now appealing – MoM wants us to provide more evidence that we've been looking locally for the candidate and really couldn't find someone.”

More work for HR

While Singapore’s skilled-immigration regime remains liberal and efficient by world standards, the due-diligence work required by HR for each new employment pass is becoming more onerous. “We will all be closely monitoring foreign hires and providing firm justifications to the MoM,” said an HR person from a US investment bank at the Singapore roundtable. “We now have to make sure that locals are in contention for each job; that they’re on the list,” said a representative from a European bank.

An attendee from another American bank added: “The rules are about forcing employers to make decisions – if it’s easier to hire a local, is it really even worth the pain of trying to move someone from overseas?”

Under the FCF, The Ministry of Manpower and other government agencies will review the hiring and career-development practices of employers with a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans in professional, managerial and executive roles. Banks are therefore encouraging staff who currently have employment passes to apply for permanent residency and thus not be counted as foreign staff. But roundtable delegates said that obtaining PR status was also becoming more difficult.

The attendees expressed concerns about how the government’s Jobs Bank, administered by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, will work in practice. Slated for launch by the “middle of this year”, according to the WDA, HR teams have yet to be told how advertising on it will integrate into their in-house IT recruitment systems, such as Taleo and PeopleSoft.

Where it’s hard to hire locals

Despite the rising administrative burden created by the FCF, banks in Singapore will still be hiring foreign candidates this year. “Singapore has comparatively high economic growth, low unemployment and a small population for a big financial centre, so fundamentally the local skill-shortage problem will never be entirely solved,” said a delegate from a global corporate bank. “But the FCF at least makes employers follow good practice by not deliberately overlooking locals.”

Roundtable attendees pointed to a continued need to import talent for finance-tech roles. “In IT, we need business analysts and project managers and it’s challenging to find them locally,” said an HR person from an Asian bank. “We’ve just hired two people in cyber-technology risk and they were both from the US – it’s a niche role,” added his counterpart at a US firm.

As we've reported in the past month, banks also hire from overseas for internal audit and compliance jobs. “About 40% of our applicants still come from abroad,” said a delegate from a US investment firm. “While they are increasingly concerned about the cost of living in Singapore, it’s still a popular destination, and bankers with children prefer Singapore over Hong Kong.”

Wait and see about the FCF

Roundtable attendees said it would take at least six months from the August launch of the FCF to assess its affect on bolstering the recruitment of Singaporean candidates. “We will then have some empirical evidence. If there is evidence of genuine skill shortages in certain job functions, the government may make adjustments to the FCF I think,” said an HR person from a US bank.

Singaporeans based overseas, as we reported in March, are already reaping the rewards of the FCF – they are in demand back home because they bring international experience but don't require work visas. “They are are pure gold for us, but the pool of candidates is very small,” said a delegate from an Asia Pacific bank.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager
  • Ku
    11 January 2015

    I am an IT professional and have been working in UK since 2006. Good balanced work life. After spending 10 years overseas, I thought of returning to Singapore in 2014 but in vain until now. As someone pointed here, I use to get calls very next day in UK but not in Singapore. Got 2 interviews after some 300 applications. One asked me to take online test. I cleared it and then telephonic interview. I was interviewed by an American guy based in Singapore. Cleared that one too. Final interview - they asked me whether I can work for < 5K knowing well my situation. I am earning around 45K a.k.a 90k sgd in midlands as a functional consultant. I am desperate and accepted that too as it will give me an opportunity to be with my wife, kids and parents. My wife works in Singapore civil service. The HR is an FT and for some reason I was not called after that final interview. They don't have a basic courtesy to reply me after that. How can I interpret this behavior ?

    Another company scheduled an interview and finally asked me whether I can join immediately in 2 weeks time. I told them that I am in a middle of my project and kindly requested them to consider me joining in 2 months as my current notice period is 3 months. They quickly said that they want someone quick and rejected me there. How can I interpret this and HR manager here is again an FT.

    I personally feel that recruiters, admin jobs and hr manager job positions must be reserved for locals failing which there will be sufferers like me. I am not sure when I will be able to move back to join my family. Going to try another year now before asking my family to join me in UK. Singapore can easily refill the gap left by my family with FTs.

  • am
    27 June 2014

    I was also struck that none of the posters mentioned their banking credentials. Skilled in IT, no doubt; master's degree - well done.
    More to the point, I wonder if ITSkilledSingaporean lacks of hands-on experience with core banking platforms; structured and commodity trade operations; security management certifications and knowledge of cyber security and risk control frameworks.
    Similarly, I think SAFINCOS Bravo Coy's arguments would be stronger if he'd emphasized his knowledge of digital banking, high-net worth individuals, investment products and instruments.

  • ge
    get over it
    17 June 2014

    I always find it so amusing how in Singapore when articles or commentary are published which focus on giving a balanced view, some Singaporeans nearly always focus on the negative or the view that discounts them. Case in point, from the above article it states that an "Asian bank" has to hire from abroad for IT finance business analysts and project managers which they say is hard to find locally. Instead the comment posters focus on the "US firm" comments about needing to hire from abroad for 2 cyber-security risk positions.

    The fact of the matter is currently the expertise, in many areas for many reasons comes from much larger markets due to deal size, population size, complexity etc. For all things IT related due to the fact that these much larger markets are dealing with issues like cyber-security, advanced IT innovation creation etc on a much larger much more frequent basis for many reason I will not get into here, so it only makes sense that some areas will see a disproportionate number of foreign placements.

    Instead of focusing on blocking foreign talent from being hired or making it even more onerous by the government as suggested by some opinions above, the focus should be on knowledge transfer and patience for the future. The foreigners will, one day or another, leave. The majority won't grow deep roots and stay forever. If the collective focus could shift from one of disgust and walking away, which is a reaction I have seen in Singapore over and over by locals, to one of taking the opportunity to learn and advance themselves under or next to a foreign talent, this issue may abate over time. But the knee jerk reaction is always to complain, quit and ask the government to do more.

    There are plenty of locals working in various high paid, high positions at large SMEs, Singapore corporates and MNCs, in all industries and to blanket say that things are so bad is just flat wrong. There is always a very boisterous local contingency in Singapore who are the "squeaky wheel" and through their MPs get often ridiculous anti-competitive knee jerk reaction policies put in place by the government. I have always looked at Singapore as a place that was above this sort of boarder blocking, unlike the US, UK etc but over the years the unjustified complaints and flat out entitlement attitude of "I followed all the rules and I am still not winning" and then blame a foreigner, is just wrong and overreaching. There are many many many Singaporeans who are very successful I work with and have worked with. The best way to compete is to be better, on all fronts, not just academically but fully. It is way too easy to say that since one can get a job overseas but at home is prejudiced, there are so many variables to consider. I know quite a few people in IT security, IT risks management, programming etc globally who have no formal education, they learned through taking apart and rebuilding a computer at age 7, hacked into this or that network at age 10 and had their first IT related job at 16. Singaporeans always want to look at the education, what degrees, what schools etc, they do not really matter in all cases. The intangible things when education is compared equally will always need to be looked at and will trump pure education only people. Unless the attitude of entitlement and self-loathing can abate this issue will not be fixed by more government intervention and onerous efforts.

    Making yourself more competitive with skills that are needed, attitude that is positive, dynamically and strategically problem solve, work well in teams, being a leader and interesting will enhance your ability to gain employment anywhere you want. Complaining and asking for more benefits just because of brithright is not the right way. Singapore is called Singapore Inc. for a reason and locals shouldn't want their cake and eat it too. You can't operate one way while wanting it another...

  • th
    13 June 2014

    I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting Singaporeans first, and nothing wrong with hiring more matured professionals - those who are in their 40's and 50's. As long as these candidates have the right skill sets, they are as good a match for anybody for any other countries.

    Banks for one thing, have no issues with paying more for the right talent. Further it's a lot less cumbersome to hire a local compared to a foreigner, some of them might even be on expat terms which cost a lot more.

    In the end, its the Govt who has to set the tone for the right hiring practises in Singapore. If they continue to make it easy for foreign professionals to get EPs and PRs here, without actually understanding what these FT actually brings to the table, Singaporeans will continue to be marginalised.

    There should also be much more scrutiny by the Govt into the quality of these FTs, as some of them bring with them qualifications and experience of dubious quality to window dress their CV in order to get a job here. Every now and then we know of these fake talents coming in with fake qualifications and get prosecuted, that should be just the tip of the iceberg. We know they exists, but are hidden until being exposed.

  • se
    1 June 2014

    Fully agree with ITSkilledSingaporean and SAFINCOS Bravo Coy.

    For years banks have been going for cheaper FT. People first? Nah, it's all about profits.
    The banks didn't care about recruiting and developing locals It's all about younger and cheaper.

    Like SAFINCOS Bravo Coy said, a lot of middle aged locals moved on to careers outside of banking and NOT by choice. I'm now in real estate sales. There's lots of people like us with the experience. Till now banks have been taking the easy way out to say they can't find talent etc.

    The question is will this help people like me? Frankly I'm not too sure.

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