Published Date: 23 June 2000

"Recruiting Talents for the New Financial Landscape"

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong At The MAS Scholarship Presentation Ceremony, MAS Penthouse

Date: 23 June 2000 


1   I am happy to join you this afternoon at the MAS scholarship presentation ceremony. First let me congratulate the recipients of this year's scholarships and your families.

2   Each year, MAS awards scholarships to some of the best "A" level students. This year, we received a total of 628 scholarship applications, of whom only 13 have made it through our rigorous selection process. You have been selected based not just on your outstanding academic achieve-ments and good ECA records, but also on the strength of your character and how well your personal values fit with MAS' vision and core values. Our selection criteria are stringent, because we seek to attract and retain a pool of talented and dedicated people to manage Singapore's economy and financial sector.


3   The financial industry is evolving rapidly. Around the world, financial markets are being deregulated, and financial institutions are merging and restructuring. The IT revolution has been a key driving force behind these changes. The Internet has enabled consumers to become much better informed. They can readily find information about companies and financial products on the web, and they will increasingly want to trade stocks, manage their finances, and invest their savings online. This has accele-rated the pace of innovation. It is forcing banks, insurance companies, stockbrokers and fund managers to develop new and improved financial products and services, many to be offered through the internet.

4   Competition is not confined to the players in the financial industry. Regulators like MAS are also impacted by these global trends, and must stay up to date with thinking and practice elsewhere. Unless regulators adopt a flexible and effective regulatory approach, and encourage enter-prise and innovation, financial institutions can easily relocate to other financial centres, and come under more pro-business regulators. So MAS must continually re-examine our policies and strategies for the financial sector in order to stay abreast of best practice.

5   Over the last two years, MAS has made many changes across our financial services industry. We have created a more open and dynamic environment to spur local banks to develop and upgrade themselves. We have opened up the insurance industry and the stock market. We have introduced new policies to boost the debt market and fund management industry. This week, we announced measures to require banks to divest their real estate and non-financial businesses, and focus on financial activities.

6   MAS could not have formulated and implemented these changes without a high calibre team of people, some of whom are scholars like yourselves. Our officers contribute actively in working groups and committees, both within MAS and in partnership with the industry. They review our strategies and policies, deal with operational problems, and are part of the collective process of deliberation and decision-making in MAS.

7   Your contribution does not depend on how senior you are, but on how capable you prove yourself. Some of our young officers who have only recently started work are already playing significant roles in our most challenging projects. If you show that you have the ability, you too will be given demanding assignments.


8   Building up a talent pool that is multi-disciplinary, innovative and responsive to change is critical to MAS. We set high standards of professionalism, and provide our staff with rigorous training. We aim to develop the full potential of every individual in a range of hard and soft skills for their current and future jobs. We expect scholars to acquire a set of core technical skills, but we also encourage job rotation across depart-ments to expose you to different aspects of our business, and to foster broad-based knowledge amongst staff.

9   We seek to build up MAS' capabilities both by developing our existing staff, and by recruiting new people to further strengthen our team. MAS' headcount has increased by about 30% in the last two years, and we expect to grow further to meet the challenges ahead. This is why we are offering scholarships to promising young people like yourselves, and hiring both fresh graduates and seasoned mid-career recruits from both the private and public sectors. The mid-career hires bring with them a wide range of skill sets and experiences. New entrants not only reinforce the organisation, but also bring fresh perspectives into the establishment.

10   At MAS, we encourage our staff to speak up and express their views. One of our challenges is to evolve a more open and informal corporate culture, so that we can take advantage of differences in perspectives and opinions among our own officers, as we debate policies and explore alternatives.

11   It is much better for us to manage the healthy tension of a diversity of professional views, than to have staff who are indifferent to the merits of the issues and accept unquestioningly whatever their superiors direct. Our ability to manage different opinions and channel diverse views towards a common vision will lead to better decisions and outcomes for MAS.

12   We have made considerable progress breaking down mental barriers and getting officers to interact more informally, though we have not taken to wearing jeans and sneakers to work. But we must continue to work hard at it, both to strengthen the readiness of our staff to argue and debate, and to imbue new recruits with the right mindset and spirit.


13   The next few years at university will be an exciting and memorable time for you. You will have many opportunities to learn new things, make new friends and visit new places. The knowledge economy is presenting talented and enterprising young people with tremendous opportunities, challenges and rewards. The best universities are part of this ferment, feeding the knowledge economy with ideas and people, and drawing fresh vitality from the currents outside academia. Immerse yourself in the spirit of the times, but never forget that at the end of the day, your duties and priorities lie in Singa-pore.

14   You have scholarship commitments and jobs waiting in MAS. But I am sure that before you graduate, many of you will be approached and propositioned with offers. They may be to take well-paid jobs in established multinational corporations, to join promising dot-coms and receive a bunch of stock options, or to carry out leading-edge research with top names in famous univer-sities. Some of you may even feel the urge to start your own businesses.

15   If this happens to you, you will have to decide how to respond. Nobody else can make up your mind for you.

16   This is the reality of the globalised market for talent. Tens of thousands of PRC students have gone overseas to study. Most have stayed on in the West, instead of returning to China. But China continues to send some of its best and brightest students abroad. It has little choice. China desperately needs the people with the skills and knowledge to modernise its economy and catch up for wasted years. Also China can afford to send 3 or 4 top students to Yale, Stanford or London, and expect to get back 1.

17   Singa-pore also has to send some of our best students abroad, and expose them to the risk that they might wander along a different path and not come back. We too have no choice. But Singa-pore cannot afford to send 3 or 4 top students abroad and get back 1. We do not have that wealth of talent, that base of 1.2 billion people that China has. With us every person counts.

18   An MAS Scholarship is not just a student loan tied to a job offer. It is a solemn undertaking by both parties. MAS is committed to investing in you, and to helping you develop to your fullest potential, because we have faith in your abilities and your character. In return, we expect full commit-ment from you to do well in your studies, and upon graduation, to contribute in full measure to MAS and to Singa-pore.


19   The scholarship award is just the beginning of your journey with MAS. You have done well at junior college to earn this opportunity. You now have to work hard at university to make the most of your time there, and to do your parents, MAS and Singapore proud. I wish you all the best in your studies, and following that a challenging and fulfilling career in MAS.