More Singaporeans are holding senior roles in the financial sector and there is no sign they are at risk of losing out, said Transport Minister and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) board member Ong Ye Kung.
And despite concerns over the numbers, foreigners play an important role in the sector and bring benefits to Singapore because it is not a "zero-sum game", he added.
Speaking in Parliament on the second day of the debate on the President's Address yesterday, Mr Ong addressed concerns about the share of foreign manpower in the financial services sector and drilled down into the details of the issue.
For instance, the number of Singaporeans holding senior jobs in the financial sector rose by more than 50 per cent from 2014 to last year.
In 2014, there were 1,700 Singaporeans holding such top-level positions - managing director and above. The number grew to 2,600 last year, said Mr Ong.
"That is more than a 50 per cent increase in five years, or an additional 900 Singaporeans taking up senior roles, embarking on a new and fulfilling stage in their careers," he said.
According to MAS estimates, said Mr Ong, the total number of senior positions in the financial services sector grew from 3,900 in 2014 to 5,900 last year.
While the proportion of Singaporeans in these roles has held steady - at about 44 per cent - their absolute numbers have increased. "This is because we have grown as a financial centre, the base has expanded significantly. So, same share but of a growing base," he said.
Last year, Singaporeans accounted for about 70 per cent of senior management roles in retail banks' local functions. In non-retail banks, where there is a higher concentration of regional and global functions, the proportion is lower, at about 40 per cent, he said.
"But this does not mean that Singaporeans are getting the short end of the stick because this is not a zero-sum game," Mr Ong added.
When banks bring their functions over here, Singaporeans also gain precious global and regional expertise, which "complements overseas assignments and exposure, which are key to preparing Singaporeans to assume senior management roles in global firms".
NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY
The fact is - small and young as we are, we are emerging as one of the nerve centres in the global financial system - sharing a stage with places like New York, London and Hong Kong, and with the largest chunk of jobs going to Singaporeans. But the competition is relentless and our competitors are hungry. We cannot take this position for granted.
MR ONG YE KUNG, Transport Minister and MAS board member, on the need for Singapore to strengthen its place in the financial world.
As for unfair hiring practices in the sector, Mr Ong made clear there is no place for that here.
"MAS holds our financial institutions to high standards and will not condone firms that fall short of fair hiring practices," he said.
Another concern, Mr Ong said, was the high concentration of one nationality in the technology departments of financial institutions.
MAS has stepped up engagement with the top leadership of key financial institutions on the need to maintain "robust HR practices that are merit-based and support workplace diversity", he added.
The financial services sector - which Mr Ong said was "a very bright spot in a Covid-19-stricken economy" - employs about 171,000 workers and forms 13 per cent of Singapore's economy.
MAS estimates show that about 70 per cent of the workforce are Singaporeans, 14 per cent are permanent residents, and 16 per cent work pass holders.
For senior roles, Singaporeans form 44 per cent, permanent residents 20 per cent, and work pass holders 36 per cent, said Mr Ong. These proportions have remained stable in recent years.
Acknowledging concerns over whether 44 per cent might be too low, he said the higher share of foreigners in senior roles is mainly due to the large international component of the activities that are now in Singapore's financial centre.
"This is an enviable position. And if you ask Singaporeans if this is a good thing for our country, I think most would say yes," Mr Ong added.
Still, there is more that can be done to create opportunities for Singaporeans, he said. MAS is working with the industry to groom Singaporeans to be leaders and specialists in financial services through various schemes.
In his speech, Mr Ong traced Singapore's journey in becoming a global financial hub, from bringing in new activities to developing new capabilities and, where necessary, injecting into the sector foreign expertise - people with track records in the area.
But over time, when Singaporeans gain the expertise, they can take on more roles in multinational teams, in Singapore as well as abroad. The same approach is now being used in developing fintech and green finance, he said.
As a result, the sector continues to create new jobs, said Mr Ong. In fact, about 22,000 financial sector jobs were created over the past five years, with 15,000 going to Singaporeans.
Mr Ong said Singapore is now emerging as one of the nerve centres in the global financial system - sharing a stage with cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong - but it is a position that cannot be taken for granted.
He said: "So, this is not about growth at all costs, or accepting 'trade-offs' for the sake of growth, but about whether as a people, we can strengthen our place in the financial world, hold our own, develop the expertise, seize the opportunities to make Singaporean lives better."