The days when expats grabbed all the plum banking jobs and locals had a harder time getting a crack at them are ending fast, thanks to industry efforts to deepen the Singaporean talent pool.
The move is not just in response to years of gripes - justified in part - from Singapore workers that they have been shut out of the top posts.
While there is a recognition that foreigners bring much-needed skills, government and senior industry figures see benefits if Singapore can reduce its reliance on expats by building up a core of skilled locals.
Banks are leading the drive for building up a local talent pool.
One HR consultant noted: "More banks are a lot more focused on promoting from within now, partly because the cost of employing someone from overseas is high." Poaching of staff also jacked up wages and bonuses.
Banks are keen to offer training and other incentives to retain talented workers. OCBC Bank, for one, opened a $60 million campus in April to equip young entrants with the needed skills. It also provides opportunities for overseas postings and trains high-fliers for top jobs. DBS has a management associate programme and offers postings across departments and overseas for staff abroad.
And it is not as if locals and permanent residents are not well entrenched in local banks. About 90 per cent of the more than 8,000 DBS staff are Singaporeans or permanent residents, as are 12 of its 19 management committee members.
OCBC said the bulk of its workforce is Singaporean and it recruits locally as far as possible. United Overseas Bank is believed to have the largest proportion of Singaporeans among its ranks. It did not respond to queries.
Citi and Standard Chartered Bank - two firms here that have copped the most heat over foreigners grabbing the top jobs - employ many locals and PRs.
Citi said more than 80 per cent of its 10,000 staff here are Singaporeans and PRs. StanChart said the proportion is about 90 per cent for its consumer banking business although that figure falls to 75 per cent if based on the total 7,600 staff based in Singapore.
The talent pool will also be boosted in the long run as more Singaporeans who work in the sector overseas return subsequently.
Banks have been urged to focus on building up the local core.
Mr Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said at an industry event last Tuesday that Singapore needs to build "a strong core of home-grown financial specialists and leaders... who will help us develop our value proposition as a premier financial centre".
Similar sentiments have come from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
The Ministry of Manpower said employers can play their role by paying more attention to how hiring is done and inculcate the principle of fair employment in all employees. Banks will get a helping hand, for example, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore set to launch leadership programmes and provide scholarships for postgraduate study.
The influx from overseas began on the back of the sector's rapid expansion. Bankers say the rapid growth exposed a shortage of Singaporeans with technical skills in areas like IT, resulting in the arrival of many qualified foreigners who ended up dominating departments of many banks.
The global financial crisis sparked a new influx with bankers from the United States and Europe flocking to Asia.
There were around 153,400 people employed in financial services last year, according to the Department of Statistics, nearly double the 85,000 in 2002.
But industry players stress that foreigners make a valuable contribution to Singapore's development as a financial centre.
Citi, which has been here for 110 years, was where many Singapore bankers cut their teeth in consumer banking. Many still do.
Mr Wong Keng Fye, head of group human capital at Maybank Singapore, noted that foreigners bring in new practices and ideas, but he also stressed that "this knowledge transfer (must) benefit Singaporeans and open up doors for them to leadership positions".
Mr Finian Toh, manager of the banking and financial services sector at recruitment firm Robert Walters, said: "As Singapore evolved into a financial hub, we attracted more foreigners and multinational financial institutions. They have given us exposure globally, and we have learnt (from) their insights."
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