Forum: Workforce composition in banks needs to be examined

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the economic outlook for Singapore dramatically. Singaporeans have been told to expect even more job losses, retrenchment and hiring freezes.

We need to make protecting our own citizens and their livelihoods a priority.

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 (Banks say they keep strong local core in workforce, Aug 13).

Once hired, these foreign staff can easily and in a short time secure their permanent resident (PR) status in Singapore. Therefore, when analysing the actual makeup of local staff, it is misleading to combine the Singaporeans and PRs.

The loss of lucrative professional, manager, executive and technician jobs to foreigners is a touchy issue in Singapore in the current economic circumstances, and given that the banking industry is a fairly mature one, I would suggest the following:

• Banks should provide the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Manpower Ministry with their workforce composition, detailing local hires (Singapore citizens only) versus others (foreign hires and PRs). The percentage of Singaporeans making up the "senior" staff should also be provided.

• A minimum percentage of hired locals against the total workforce should be considered, like 90 per cent for Singapore banks and 85 per cent for non-Singapore banks.

It seems quite generous to have some banks take in 30 per cent foreigners for their commercial banking operations in Singapore.

• Any exception to the workforce composition should require special approval from the regulatory or government authorities, again with rationale supporting justification.

• Certain key positions, like human resource head, operations head and compliance roles, should be held only by locals (unless exceptionally justified). Where foreign expertise is needed, there should be clear transition plans to train Singaporeans to assume the said responsibilities in the coming years.

The financial sector is an important one for Singapore but we need to constantly train, upgrade and protect these jobs for Singaporeans, while concurrently welcoming foreign investments.

It has been common market knowledge that certain big, long established foreign banks have been sidelining Singaporean talent in favour of foreign hires, and I strongly urge the authorities to more closely scrutinise the situation in our finance industry.

Raymond Koh Bock Swi

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