Published Date: 27 January 2021

Keynote Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs at the Institute of Banking and Finance Awards Ceremony 2020 on 27 January 2021

Mr Ravi Menon, Chairman of IBF,
Council Members (who have joined us virtually),
Awards Recipients,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

1.      Thank you for inviting me to join you on this rather special occasion. 

2.      I want to thank Mr Nam Sin for sharing with us earlier the words of our then-Minister of Finance, Mr Hon Sui Sen. Indeed, what he says is a timely reminder that the future of work is always evolving and workforce transformation is a journey without an end.

3.      I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the exemplary financial institutions (FIs) and industry champions in the Financial Services sector for leading the way.

Opportunities Amid the Crisis

4.      By now, it is clear that early investments in digital transformation has helped the financial sector to adapt and stay resilient in spite of the enormous disruption brought about by the COVID-19.

i.     Throughout the circuit breaker, financial services continued to remain open and accessible to all kinds of customers – both retail and non-retail.
ii.      At one time, 85% of workers in the financial industry worked from home.

5.      Overall, in 2020, the financial sector performed well and continued to provide good jobs for Singaporeans.

i.      In the first three quarters alone, value-add grew by 4.7% - which is quite remarkable considering the circumstances.
ii.      In the first half of 2020, all of the 1,900 workforce expansion in Financial Services was accounted for by increased local hiring.
iii.      In addition, based on our preliminary estimates, in September alone, over 400 employers in the Financial Services sector expanded their local workforce, hiring about 1,300 locals. These employers will receive substantial support through the Jobs Growth Incentive.
iv.      As a result, the share of locals employed in the sector has remained above 80%. That has been the landscape for the last five years.

6.      At the same time, we are mindful that uncertainties remain.

i.      The Government and our industry partners will adopt a three-pronged approach to enhance Singapore’s position as a trusted location of choice for FIs to invest and sink roots in.
ii.      First, we will double down on efforts to further digitalise financial services. This trajectory is irreversible. The sooner we get on it, the faster we move, and the better it is. This will enable the sector to meet increased demands for more varied digital finance solutions and better user experiences.
iii.      Second, we will strengthen the connectivity of Singapore’s businesses with overseas players to broaden their opportunities. This can be achieved through open global platforms like Business sans Borders, which helps businesses access an ecosystem of international buyers, sellers, and solutions to widen their web of opportunities; and
iv.      Third, we will help businesses seize emerging opportunities. MAS is making a concerted push to mainstream green finance, and this will bring about new investments in green businesses, technology and infrastructure. Other emerging areas include pandemic risk financing, as well as restructuring and insolvency.

7.      For the sector’s next phase of growth, we will continue to prioritise the development of our local workers. This will:

i.      Allow Singaporeans to deepen their expertise and access new opportunities; and
ii.      Enhance the abilities of Singapore-based companies to expand their businesses alongside a growing local talent pool.

Workforce Transformation and Capability Building as Ongoing Priorities

8.      We have seen from past crises that companies with an ingrained culture of change and adaptation are much more likely to stay ahead and succeed. This goes hand in hand with a workforce that is agile, and which takes reskilling and upskilling in its stride.

9.      Employers and workers are not alone in this journey.

i.      The Government is very much committed to supporting both.
ii.      One of the many ways that this is demonstrated was mentioned by Nam Sin earlier. The IBF, which has been appointed by the National Jobs Council as the Jobs Development Partner for the sector, is ramping up efforts to help locals access job and training opportunities. We all have a stake in ensuring these efforts succeed. One especially important driver will be our FIs in pushing ahead with workforce transformation and capability building efforts.
iii.      As employers, you have full sight of the value of your existing workforce. You know the expertise and experience that each of your workers bring, and can help them reskill and transit to new roles when job tasks and skills requirements evolve.
iv.      To bridge skills gaps that your existing workforce may be lacking in, you can hire and train mid-career jobseekers who possess a wealth of experience and transferrable skills that can be valuable to your companies.

10.      Many FIs are already on board the Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) that Workforce Singapore has put out with our partners.

i.      Together, they have committed to reskill and redeploy 5,300 employees in consumer banking, insurance, operations and other areas to take on new or enhanced roles.
ii.      To date, this effort has enabled 1,900 workers to complete their training and be redeployed into new roles. It would have been a very different outcome had this effort not been undertaken.

11.      Here, I would like to highlight how an IBF Inspire Award recipient tapped on these PCPs.

i.      To better meet its manpower needs, DBS Bank supported over 1,000 existing workers to reskill.
ii.      Recognising the value of this effort, DBS has further committed to reskill and upskilli another 4,300 Singapore employees from this year. Through these training programmes, DBS’ employees are better equipped to help customers adopt digital banking, which has become ubiquitous.
iii.      One of its beneficiaries is Ms Leow Bee Leng, 52, who joined DBS consumer banking business as a branch teller in 2013.

a.      DBS enrolled Bee Leng in the PCP in 2017, to prepare her for an enhanced role as a Senior Service Executive, where she uses digital channels to help customers meet their insurance and cash management needs.
b.      Her adaptability and good performance impressed her supervisors, and she has since taken on a more specialised digital role this year. As an Operations Specialist, Bee Leng uses online tools to help customers process their secured housing loans.
c.      In hindsight, these transitions, both for DBS and Bee Leng, do not look too difficult. But if DBS or employees like Bee Leng had not put in the effort to try, neither might have moved forward.

12.      Beyond supporting existing workers, I would also like to encourage FIs to actively build local capabilities in areas with skills shortages. Here is where I like to offer a perspective. Given your attractiveness to jobseekers, FIs can easily implement  a plug-and-play model. This comes most naturally to you – when competing for talent, you are likely to come up on top because of the terms of employment you are able to offer jobseekers. This would however be a short sighted approach. Without making investments to deepen our talent pool, everyone’s growth will eventually be circumscribed. That is an outcome that does no one any good.

13.      Among other measures, FIs can tap on the Technology in Finance Immersion Programme, or TFIP, to train and hire mid-career jobseekers in key technology areas such as cloud computing, cybersecurity, data analytics, full stack development and artificial intelligence. Talent in these areas are lacking everywhere, and not just in Singapore.

i.      I’m happy to know that over 260 individuals have benefitted from TFIP over the two runs since the programme was launched in April 2019.

14.      UOB, also one of our IBF Inspire Award recipients, took part in TFIP in a fairly big way.

i.      To date, the bank has trained over 30 mid-career individuals to take on roles within the bank’s technology and operations team or retail banking team.
ii.      UOB also assigns experienced mentors to provide them with on-the-job guidance.

a.      One of the mid-career individuals is Soon Wei Ting, who used to manage contracts and procurement in public service – a considerably big shift.
b.      While she anticipated a steep learning curve, the mentorship and collaborative spirit in her team enabled her to gain momentum quickly in her learning journey.
c.      More than one year into the programme, Wei Ting has built a solid foundation in the fundamentals of technology and cybersecurity.
d.      She now contributes as a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst in UOB.

Industry Champions At the Heart of the Jobs and Skills Agenda

15.      I have spoken quite a bit about how the government and FIs are partnering in various ways. Fortunately for all of us, these efforts are boosted by the industry champions who went and are continuing to go above and beyond to advocate continuous learning and development for themselves as well as their staff.

16.      Let me share a few examples.

i.      Jon Yeo is the Chief Compliance Officer at Maybank Singapore and this year’s IBF Fellow recipient.
ii.      He initiated a structured compliance internship programme to groom undergraduates who were interested in careers in  compliance.  Since then, Maybank has onboarded 11 candidates from the pool of interns, with five more in the pipeline.
iii.      Jon has also been a strong advocate in facilitating career transitions through the PCPs, having hired and trained many mid-career individuals with no background in compliance.

a.      One of them is Bobby Chen, who effectively applied the risk management knowledge acquired from his previous role as a Business Development Director in the maritime industry, to carry out investigations relating to trade finance transactions.

17.      Another industry champion of staff development is IBF Distinguished Fellow recipient Mr Lim Khiang Tong, Head Group Operations & Technology, OCBC Bank.

i.      Under Khiang Tong’s leadership, the bank’s operations team embarked on a multi-year effort to revamp the bank’s digital banking interface and relevant work processes.
ii.      To support this effort, 80% of his operations staff had to undergo PCPs, picking up new skills in areas such as data analytics, agile thinking, project management and digital storytelling.
iii.      Besides PCPs, Khiang Tong also championed initiatives such as informal lunchtime talks and learning groups to encourage workers to share their experience and expertise in emerging technologies such as machine learning, microservices and DevOps.

18.      We will always benefit from having more leaders like Jon and Khiang Tong.  Congratulations and well done!


19.      To conclude, it bears repeating that building a strong pipeline of local talent is critical to our vision of a world-class workforce for the Financial Services sector in Singapore. I would like to thank IBF and all members for your contributions to the sector, and to encourage you to press on with your good work.

20.      Once again, thank you for inviting me and have a wonderful evening!