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Excluding expats “fatal” for Singapore finance sector, says MAS boss

Singapore’s finance sector is expanding rapidly, meaning that the country must remain open to foreign talent, according to Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

MAS is committed to both “growing a strong local talent pool” and “attracting high quality global talent” said Menon, speaking at the Singapore Financial Forum yesterday. It has been working closely with financial institutions, institutes of higher learning, and other government agencies to expand its local talent pipeline and build a strong “core” of Singaporean talent in the finance sector.

But Menon said this is not a “zero-sum game” and does not amount to a “Singaporeans only” strategy. Such an approach will be “fatal for Singapore as a global financial centre as there are simply not enough locals to meet the fast-expanding specialist needs of financial institutions,” he added. “Rather, promoting a strong Singaporean core is about building good skills and capabilities in our local workforce and ensuring fair hiring opportunities.”

An internal MAS study shows that there is generally a high degree of complementarity between high-skilled employment pass holders and local professionals in the financial sector. “In fact, staying open to global talent has been critical to the growth and success of our financial centre…As we become an even more international and sophisticated financial centre pursuing cutting-edge developments in technology and sustainability, it is even more critical that we remain open,” said Menon.

New MAS figures support the need for Singapore to be open to overseas finance professionals. The Singapore financial sector grew by an annual average of 7.2% during 2020-21, four times faster than the overall economy. Those two years also saw 5,800 net jobs created. This year, MAS estimates that there will be more than 9,400 new permanent roles on offer in the financial sector, with 3,000 of these in technology.

Amid eased border restrictions, employment passes (EPs) for finance professionals are now getting easier to obtain in Singapore, say recruiters, who experienced increased difficulties obtaining EPs last year. This is despite a rise in EP qualifying salaries and a new points-based assessment system (called COMPASS) for EPs being introduced next year.

Interestingly, Menon said that recent changes in EP policies will not hinder firms from continuing to access the people that they need for their growth in Singapore. There are no quotas on Employment Pass holders and COMPASS is not designed to reduce the intake of EPs, he said. “Rather, it is to enable the entry of high-quality global talent in a more transparent and flexible way to complement the local workforce in Singapore,” he added.

Meanwhile, Menon said MAS efforts to improve local representation in the upper ranks of the Singapore finance sector are starting to pay dividends. MAS estimates that more than 3,000 Singapore citizens held senior roles in the sector in 2020, an increase of more than 80% compared to 2016.

“The need for a strong local talent pipeline is something that the CEOs of global financial institutions in Singapore fully understand and agree with.  A strong Singaporean core gives ballast to their operations here and resilience in their staff capacity,” said Menon.

Menon added that MAS is stepping up efforts to boost local talent by focusing on three key areas: polytechnic graduates; mid-career professionals from other sectors; and Singaporeans working overseas.

Photo by shawnanggg on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager
  • Si
    21 May 2022

    Yeah, right... all the CECAs...

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