No need to overreact on job numbers, says expert

Office workers walking outside Raffles Place MRT station.
Office workers walking outside Raffles Place MRT station. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Singapore's financial services industry is teaming up with the Government to ensure the local workforce is nimble enough to move into new jobs emerging in the sector.

In all, 201,400 people work in finance and insurance services here, so how they keep their jobs - and prepare for new ones - are crucial questions.

Last month, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), National Trades Union Congress and the Institute of Banking and Finance set up a Financial Sector Tripartite Committee.

It was the first orchestrated public-private initiative to provide a career advisory and skills upgrading programme, so financial professionals can position themselves for new industry growth areas.

Part of the immediate focus is to enhance specialist skills in risk management, compliance, wealth management and cyber security.

The Government also wants to ensure that a Singaporean core will drive the future of the sector, National Development Minister and MAS board member Lawrence Wong said in Parliament earlier this month.

Still, views on the ground are varied. A veteran investment banker who lost her job last year is still jobless and glum.

"I don't think MAS realises that this is a structural decline. Financial institutions have no reason to be in a small market like Singapore when they need to manage their costs. I don't think the jobs are coming back," she said.

But some still manage to persevere and even thrive; 2015 was a good year for Great Eastern financial adviser Zoe Lim, who said she was "able to really go at the high net worth individual segment. In the mass market, the economic downturn is also raising consumers' awareness of financial planning".

But CIMB economist Song Seng Wun, who has been in the industry since 1990, said there is no need to overreact on job numbers: "As the industry goes through its cycle, the number of jobs also goes up and down. The downcycle that we're seeing now is not new."

This was reflected in Manpower Ministry data. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, jobs in the finance and insurance services sector grew by only 2,200 in 2009. But the growth shot up to 11,400 jobs in 2010 and 10,900 in 2011. Last year, the sector still saw net growth of 4,500 jobs, after the 9,300 added in 2014.

"Singapore has had a strong head start in transforming from historically a trading port to a financial centre. As long as there's still a need for these services, Singapore will always be that key hub in the Asia-Pacific time zone," Mr Song said. "How well will the sector recover in the near term? We're not sure. But when sentiment and market conditions do improve, you can be sure job opportunities will come back as quickly as they were cut."

Wong Wei Han

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'No need to overreact on job numbers, says expert'. Print Edition | Subscribe