In retail banks’ local functions, Singapore citizens account for seven in 10 of senior management roles, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) estimates.
However, across the country’s entire financial sector, Singaporeans make up about 43 per cent of senior management.
This reflects Singapore’s role as an international financial centre, MAS managing director Ravi Menon wrote in response to a letter to The Straits Times Forum page.
“As our financial sector attracts more regional and global HQ (headquarter) functions, it creates more good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans.
“But it also means a higher proportion of foreigners in senior management in these functions as FIs (financial institutions) understandably draw from a global talent pool to fill these positions,” he added.
Even so, a “good number” of Singaporeans have assumed regional leadership roles, Mr Menon noted. More citizens are also taking on overseas positions, which is typically a prerequisite for such leadership positions.
The regulator has been working with FIs to develop a strong local leadership pipeline, and the industry is making progress, according to Mr Menon.
Meanwhile, within the sector’s overall workforce, Singaporeans make up about 70 per cent, while permanent residents (PRs) make up another 14 per cent.
Although Singaporeans are “well represented” across business functions, the local proportion needs to be improved in areas such as technology and risk management, Mr Menon said.
MAS will intensify its engagements with FIs’ senior management on their workforce profiles, and plans to grow the Singaporean core.
“While not yet where we want to be for every FI, the picture across the sector as a whole is better than often portrayed,” Mr Menon said.
“We want to see a strong Singaporean core complemented by high-quality and diverse foreign talent in every major FI.”
He was responding to a Forum letter published last Friday, in which retired senior banker Raymond Koh said that “many” foreigners hired in the sector have been for upper-middle to senior management positions.
“Once hired, these foreign staff can easily and in a short time secure their PR status in Singapore. Therefore, when analysing the actual makeup of local staff, it is misleading to combine the Singaporeans and PRs,” Mr Koh wrote.
MAS deputy managing director Jacqueline Loh had said last week that three-quarters of jobs created between 2015 and 2019 in the financial sector went to locals - referring to Singapore citizens and PRs.
Mr Koh wrote in his letter that it is “common market knowledge that certain big, long-established foreign banks have been sidelining Singaporean talent in favour of foreign hires”, and urged the authorities to more closely scrutinise the situation in the industry.
Mr Menon on Wednesday said he has asked his team to reach out to Mr Koh for further views and suggestions.
MAS also reiterated its commitment to grow the Singaporean core in the financial sector.
The central bank set up a $125 million package earlier this year to encourage financial institutions to retain, train and hire Singaporeans.
Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Manpower said that another 47 employers had been placed on a watch list for possible discriminatory hiring practices , due to their exceptionally high shares of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) compared with industry peers.
Of the 47 employers, 30 are in the financial services and professional services sectors, including banks and fund managers. These 30 also have a high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities.
When approached by The Business Times (BT) however, the ministry declined to share guidelines for what regulators would consider an industry norm for hiring on this front.
To get a sense of industry norms, BT sought figures from the seven largest retail banks in Singapore – designated by the MAS as “domestic systemically important banks”.
The local banking trio of DBS, OCBC and United Overseas Bank (UOB) are each staffed by over 90 per cent of Singapore citizens and PRs.
At DBS, all Singapore group management committee members are locals, including 15 Singaporeans and 1 PR. About 92 per cent of OCBC's and UOB's top leadership teams comprise Singaporeans and PRs.
Over 85 per cent of the workforce at HSBC's subsidiary in Singapore are made up of this local core. At Standard Chartered and Citi Singapore, the proportions stand at 83 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively. Maybank declined to disclose figures.
While acknowledging their commitment to grow the local talent pool, the banks also pointed to how diversity has added to their strengths, especially with Singapore positioning itself as a global financial centre.
For instance, UOB’s head of human resources Dean Tong said: “It is essential that our leaders have both local and international perspectives given that we are a leading bank in the region and our role (is) in supporting Singapore’s reputation as a global financial capital."
This article was first published in The Business Times. Permission required for reproduction.