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“I’ve just lost a strong employee”: why banks in Singapore fear Grab’s hiring spree

As Grab ramps up its financial services technology hiring in Singapore, banks are already worried that their staff will depart for the tech firm.

A senior technologist at a US bank says he lost a strong team member to Grab just last week. “I personally think it was a good career move for him because Grab is a local company and has much more interesting projects on offer than most foreign banks here do. We usually keep these roles overseas,” he says.

While Grab carries out some of its tech development in cities like Bangalore, Beijing, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Seattle, the company is headquartered in Singapore and many of its more cutting-edge jobs are located there. “With the largest R&D centre, our Singapore HQ currently houses tech talent specialising in technologies such as artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning and cyber security,” says a spokesperson for Grab.

By contrast, the banking tech professional says his American firm bases most of its engineering teams overseas, mainly in the US, UK and India. Singapore is mostly a support centre. “The person who left us was interested in doing infrastructure work, but we have all our infra teams in the US. He will also be working on the public cloud at Grab. Our public cloud team in Singapore is very small and made up of support engineers only. And they’re not hiring either,” he adds.

Grab has announced plans to hire 350 more employees in Singapore this year to help it deliver online financial services in Southeast Asia, including 200 people for its digital banking partnership with Singtel. Most of the jobs will be in technology.

The banking technologist says these roles will be attractive to rank-and-file employees at his firm. “Another advantage of Grab is no night calls and no waiting for your customers to come online after you’ve picked up their ticket. Most of our customers are in the US, so catching up with them isn’t easy which leads to longer resolution times – read: more hassle,” he adds.

Local banks in Singapore don’t suffer from these problems, but they are “notorious for their old school management style (the boss is always right), and obsolete technology or process”, says another banking technologist. “Process in banks is one of the things everyone hates. While every bank is working on modernisation, most copy what tech companies do rather than innovate themselves. Grab is a young company – it uses the latest tech and is an innovator and disruptor,” he adds.

Grab is touting long-term career development as its main calling card for attracting tech talent amid chronic skill shortages in Singapore. Grab employees have “opportunities to develop a broader and more complex set of capabilities through in-role expansion, beyond-role exposure, leadership engagement and mentorship, and formal training and development,” says the spokesperson.

When it hires technologists from the traditional banking sector, Grab is generally able to match salaries or offer increments of about 10%, say recruiters.

Don’t expect a mass exodus to Grab and its digital bank, however. At a senior level, tech professionals often like the prestige that comes with working for a tier-one global bank, says the technologist from the US firm. “In Asia, many people stick with a company for its name and reputation rather than going to the one which pays better or offers more interesting work. Image is more important to them,” he adds.

“Many technologists working in banking tech enjoy the relative job security and are working their way up the ladder, so they may see joining a tech firm as a risk not worth taking,” says Adam Davies, country director for Singapore at recruiters iKas. “But if they’re ready for a fresh challenge, are excited by the opportunity to join a fintech, and if the salary is tempting enough, then I’d expect techies to be interested in making the move,” he adds.

Grab is not the only tech company that’s announced a hiring campaign in Singapore this year. In February, Dell Technologies unveiled plans to invest $50m in a global innovation hub in the Republic, and fill 160 new roles – including designers, developers and strategists – by the end of the year. Payments firm Wise (formerly TransferWise) said last month that it is hiring more than 70 Singapore-based staff in roles such as engineering, product and operations as it moves into a larger office and targets business expansion in Southeast Asia. The “ambitious plans” of companies like Grab, Dell and Wise are “leading to stiff competition for tech talent in Singapore”, says Davies.

Photo by Kseniia Ilinykh on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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