The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will intensify its engagements with the senior management of financial institutions on their workforce profiles and plans to grow the Singaporean core, said its managing director Ravi Menon.
In a reply published today to a letter in The Straits Times Forum page, Mr Menon said: "Protecting and growing Singaporean jobs, especially in current economic conditions, is a top priority."
He pointed to a $125 million package established by MAS earlier this year to encourage financial institutions to retain, train and hire Singaporeans.
He was responding to a letter, published on Aug 15, from retired senior banker Raymond Koh, who called for an examination of the workforce composition in banks. "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 upper-middle to senior management positions," wrote Mr Koh.
Mr Menon wrote: "While not yet where we want to be for every financial institution, the picture across the sector as a whole is better than often portrayed."
He said MAS estimates that citizens make up 70 per cent of the sector's workforce, with permanent residents (PRs) accounting for another 14 per cent. Singaporeans take up 43 per cent of senior management jobs across the sector, reflecting the Republic's role as an international hub, he said.
The perennial hot-button topic of foreign talent is in the spotlight again amid the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn. There have been calls, in Forum letters, for the Government to review its labour policies by granting fewer employment passes. Others urged local workers to view foreigners as collaborators and not competitors.
Retail banks told ST that local workers make up a sizeable portion of their workforce in technology and risk management, areas that Mr Menon said could be improved.
United Overseas Bank (UOB) head of group human resources Dean Tong said eight in 10 of its staff in these teams are Singaporeans or PRs.
A DBS Bank spokesman said citizens and PRs make up nearly 95 per cent of its risk management team and 85 per cent of its technology and operations team.
He added that 15 out of 16 members of DBS' top leadership team in Singapore, including chief executive officer Piyush Gupta, are Singaporeans, while one is a PR.
An OCBC Bank spokesman said that 84 per cent of its staff in the areas of technology and risk management are citizens and PRs.
The banks added that they have initiatives in place to ensure a strong pipeline of local talent.
UOB's Mr Tong said the bank launched its flagship training programme Better U last year to equip staff with technical skills to succeed in the digital future.
Meanwhile, DBS said it is hiring seasoned professionals in growth technology areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, full stack development and data analytics through a range of specialised programmes which cater to locals.
It will hire close to 150 young graduates yearly for talent development programmes such as the bank's graduate associate programmes.
Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem said it is important for local workers to stay relevant by being familiar with global changes, for instance in financial technology and alternative payment platforms.
"That would be how we can grow the local talent pool, to make our locals the best match for those jobs, and not just depend on quota."
Ms Low said banks and other financial institutions should abide by fair hiring guidelines, recruit staff based on merit and consider the diversity and make-up of their workforce at all levels, including the middle-and senior-management levels.
She noted: "Banks should also consider that locals may have greater familiarity with the local and regional business context and dynamics."