Posted inNewsSingapore

Are Singapore firms sidelining local talent?

The Lion City's financial sector has been criticised for hiring more non-locals in senior management roles.

While 70% of Singapore’s financial services workforce are locals, only 44% of senior management roles are held by Singaporeans, with the remainder being held by permanent residents or pass holders, Ong Ye Kung, minister for transport and board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said in a speech at the Debate of the President’s Address last week.

Ong added that although Singaporeans accounted for around 70% of senior management roles in retail banks’ local functions, for non-retail banks, the proportion is lower, at about 40%.

He explained that more non-Singaporeans are in senior management roles because of the higher concentration of regional and global functions in non-retail banks.

“The reason for the higher share of foreigners in senior roles in mainly due to the large international component of the activities here,” Ong said.

The speech was made after the Lion City’s financial industry was criticised for favouring foreign talent. In mid-August, a letter written by a retired senior banker published on a local publication urged authorities to scrutinise whether foreign institutions have been sidelining Singaporean talent in favour of foreign hires.

“As a retired senior banker, I can say categorically that in the past two decades, many foreigners hired in Singapore’s finance sector have been for the upper-middle to senior management positions,” ex-banker Raymond Koh said in the letter.

Authorities respond

Days after the letter was published, Ravi Menon, managing director at the MAS, responded to the letter saying that the regulator will “intensify” engagements with financial institutions on their workforce profiles.

“We want to see a strong Singaporean core complemented by high-quality and diverse foreign talents in every major financial institution,” Menon said.

Later that month, Singapore’s Ministry of Power also tightened the salary requirements for working visas. For example, the minimum qualifying monthly salary for the employment pass (EP) has been raised to S$4,500 ($3,281) from S$3,900 for all new applicants, effective 1 September.

The new salary criteria will equally apply to the financial services sector, the ministry said. However, effective December, the minimum qualifying salary for EPs in the sector will be further raised to S$5,000 for new applicants.

“These changes will complement MAS’ efforts to encourage and support financial institutions in developing a strong local pipeline of talent,” the ministry said. 

More Singaporeans in senior roles now

While the share of Singaporeans in senior roles has remained steady, Ong noted in his speech that the absolute number of these positions held by locals has increased.

Between 2014 and 2019, the number of senior jobs that went to Singaporeans increased at least 50% to 2,600 from 1,700, according to Ong. In total, the number of senior positions available in Singapore grew to 5,900 from 3,900 during the same period.

In addition, more Singaporeans are now working overseas in the financial sector. MAS estimates that there are 2,000 overseas Singaporeans in the financial sector, with around 120 holding C-suite executive roles and another 750 holding at least director or vice president positions, Ong said.

Overall, the sector continues to create new jobs, which are benefiting Singaporeans. Around 22,000 financial sector jobs were created over the past five years, with 15,000 going to Singaporeans.

“Singapore has grown as a global financial centre as more financial institutions set up regional or global functions here. They have made us the hub for expertise, networking and oversight of operations in other markets.

“There is no doubt that being a global financial hub has benefitted Singapore. I also think that by and large Singaporeans are not uncomfortable with this approach. Why then has foreign manpower raised concerns amongst Singaporeans?,” Ong said


More recently, Ong was asked during a parliamentary sitting on Friday for a comparison between the salaries of Singaporeans and permanent residents and foreigners.

According to him, the median wage band of Singaporeans in the financial sector is S$6,000-S$8,000, while the median wage band for permanent residents and foreigners are slightly higher, at S$8,000-S$10,000.

In senior-level positions, around half of Singaporeans earn above S$30,000, which is around the same level for foreigners, he noted.

“Both sets of data are as one would expect. Financial institutions very often bring in higher-earning foreigners to perform specialised or regional and global roles, and our rules constrain the flow of those who come in at the lower end.

“[But] we should focus our minds on the essential issue, which is how we can provide the best opportunities for Singaporeans. We do this by staying open to the expertise that we need to grow as a global financial centre, investing in Singaporeans’ capabilities at every level and by ensuring fair employment practices amongst financial institutions.”

Part of the Mark Allen Group.