SINGAPORE - The perception that there needs to be a stronger Singaporean core in the financial sector here is "a real issue" and one that arises because there are not enough Singaporeans to meet the growing demands of the sector.
"There has been a lot of growth in the financial sector for the last 20 years," Standard Chartered CEO Ray Ferguson told BT.
"If you look at it from our point of view itself, we would not have been able to grow to be where we are if we had said that we got to have a Singaporean-only focus (in hiring) for the last 20 years.
"That would not be the diverse, cross-border Standard Chartered company we have now. There have been business lines and areas where we have had to bring people from outside but they work with Singaporeans alongside them."
Delving deeper into the problem, he said that some of it was due to not adding enough capability for growth. Another reason was that Singapore was not producing that many relevant and qualified graduates at the entry-level.
The turning point for him personally came last year when he learnt how serious the problem was.
"I remember DPM (Deputy Prime Minister) Tharman (Shanmugaratnam) coming to the IBF (Institute of Banking and Finance) annual dinner last year where he made a very clear policy speech on the need to be more thoughtful of how we (industry players) were developing the core."
The "core", Mr Ferguson explained, has two parts to it - the first is the entry-level graduates and the second are the middle to senior-level managers.
"The message I took away from that was that we will have to take some proactive action and relook at some of our policies and hiring decisions in Singapore if we were going to make a bigger difference."
According to Mr Ferguson, Standard Chartered now takes a more proactive look at its hiring policies, particularly for the graduate entry-level positions, as it becomes much more conscious now in hiring foreigners.
"We will look at Singaporeans and develop them but that does not mean that we will make it a foreigner-free zone as well."
In addition, he said, the bank was also looking overseas to bring back Singaporeans in the industry and will look to partner agencies as it did with Contact Singapore to reach out to Singaporeans in New York last year.
As for its foreign employees, the majority of whom hail from the United Kingdom, Australia, India and Malaysia, Mr Ferguson said that many of them are hired in specialised areas, such as in IT or risk management.
"Generally, they (the foreign employees) are quite spread out in the bank and now we have the data to look at that (avoiding the concentration of foreigners in any one function of the group) closely . . . which we didn't do efore, so now we can do it in a more calibrated way."