Parliamentary Replies
Published Date: 29 February 2016

Reply to Adjournment Motion on Building a Ready, Resilient and Relevant Workforce in the Financial Sector

1   Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, I thank Mr Tay for his suggestions on our financial workforce.

2   With sluggish growth in the global economy, coupled with ongoing implementation of international regulatory reform measures, we are seeing consolidation pressures in financial sectors all over the world.

3   Singapore is not spared from the effects of these forces, which are not just cyclical, but also structural in nature. 

4   As Mr Tay noted, many global financial institutions have embarked on significant downsizing of their global operations, and MAS has been monitoring this closely.  While the Singapore operations of these global banks also retrenched some staff, the scale of this has been far smaller than the global numbers suggest, and the impact on Singapore has been relatively contained. 

5   Singapore’s financial sector continued to post healthy employment gains in recent years, and has added new jobs (on a net basis) over the first three quarters of 2015. We see strong demand for good talent in key areas such as Asset and Wealth Management, Insurance, Compliance and Risk Management.

6   Looking ahead, we expect to see continued job creation in the financial sector, although at a more moderated pace. 

7   Over the medium-term, we have several plus points in our favour:

  • The strong pace of urbanisation in Asian Cities will spur significant demand for infrastructure development and financing, as well as insurance.
  • Growing affluence in Asia will also lead to increased demand for financial services.  As a key financial centre for the region, Singapore stands to benefit from these trends.
  • Financial institutions are increasingly adopting financial technology, or fintech, in their business. Demand is growing for people with competencies in areas such as cyber security, data analytics, application design and development, as well as network and infrastructure. These are areas where Singaporeans can excel in, and secure good jobs in the financial sector.

8   In the interim, we understand that the changes taking place are a cause for anxiety among affected financial sector workers, especially the mid-career professionals.

9   This is one reason why the Financial Sector Tripartite Committee (FSTC) was formed, with Mr Tay as the co-chair, to bring together the industry associations, labour movement, and government to foster a financial sector workforce that can meet the changing needs of the financial industry.

10   MAS is working with the FSTC to develop ways to help and support those affected. In particular, individuals can approach a new one-stop career advisory facility for guidance relating to skills upgrading, and career opportunities in finance and beyond. We are setting up processes and mechanisms to help mid-career professionals. This advisory facility, also known as Financial Industry Career Advisory Centre (FiCAC), will be set up in April this year, starting with a focus on the banking sector, but will extend coverage to the insurance and asset management sectors in the near future.

11   Beyond immediate assistance to affected employees, we will also need to look ahead to chart the future skills needed for the financial industry and systematically equip our people with these skills.  Let me comment briefly on three areas. 

12   First, we must, as Mr Tay suggests, get our basics right, and make sure that the tertiary education system provides good preparation for potential entrants to the financial sector.

13   Mr Tay mentioned that the banking is no longer in the curriculum of our polytechnics and universities. In fact, banking is still covered as one of the modules. But I agree with Mr Tay that it can be improved.  That’s why MAS is working with the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to enhance the curriculum of existing banking and finance modules, including having more well-structured internships, at both the polytechnic and university level.  In particular, polytechnic students can look forward to the first Retail Banking Earn and Learn Programme to be implemented by next year.

14   Second, we will provide more learning pathways and training opportunities for Singaporean finance professionals at all levels to tap on the SkillsFuture measures and pursue mastery in their respective fields.

15   MAS is already doing this through various schemes under SkillsFuture, for the financial sector.  For example under the Finance Scholarship Programme (FSP), MAS supports early-mid career Singaporeans in developing specialist capabilities through post-graduate studies. The recently launched Financial Sector SkillsFuture Study Award will also provide an additional channel of financial support to enable individuals to upgrade their skills through a wider range of specialist programmes.

16   Looking ahead, we will collaborate with the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) and other stakeholders to review and develop additional programmes needed to upskill industry competencies. 

17   Mr Tay mentioned that many of our banking talent have become specialists.  But in fact, we need many more specialists in specific areas of growth, like risk management, compliance, wealth management and cyber security.  We can set up new centres of excellence to deepen such capabilities, and work with employers to develop meaningful career progression for these specialists. 

18   While we provide for specialist skills in areas of need, we will also need to develop professionals with sufficient breadth of skills to be flexible and resilient in times of change.  This means pre-emptively identifying the key jobs that are evolving, and developing structured training pathways for affected professionals. We must also identify new cross-functional competencies that are needed, such as in data analytics and digital banking. All these will support continual learning pathways under SkillsFuture, and facilitate more seamless transitions across different areas of finance.

19   Third, we will continue to work closely with the key financial institutions to build a strong core of Singaporean finance professionals, and uphold fair employment practices, particularly in the areas of hiring and talent recruitment, and in their appraisal processes. This is something that I talked about in the last COS debate.

20   MAS has been engaging the top leadership of key financial institutions in this area.  The response has been positive with many taking proactive steps to strengthen their Singaporean talent base.  We want to ensure that there are Singaporean professionals taking up leadership positions in the key financial institutions.  So MAS works with them to develop programmes for their Singaporean professionals, for example, by enabling them to take up cross-functional roles or to take international postings for better exposure.

21   These are some of the broad areas of work that I’ve mapped out. I’m sure the FSTC will be having more detailed deliberations to see how these plans can be enhanced, and well implemented on the ground.

22   In summary, the government is stepping up its efforts, and Singaporean financial sector workers can look forward to many more new programmes through SkillsFuture. But at the end of the day, a lot of this comes down to individual mindsets.  Everyone must be prepared to do his part.

23   As Mr Tay has highlighted correctly, the next decade will be both disruptive and transformative for financial institutions. This will have a significant bearing on the scale and nature of financial sector jobs around the world, including financial centres like Singapore. In this period of volatility and change, we must all embrace the desire to keep learning and improving ourselves. We must all have a greater sense of urgency towards reskilling, upskilling and acquiring new skills. 

24   Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, the MAS is committed to work with the industry and partners to build a ready, resilient and relevant workforce in the financial sector.