Last Saturday (15 Aug), retired Singaporean banker Raymond Koh Bock Swi wrote to ST Forum urging the government to examine the workforce composition in banks operating in Singapore (‘Retired banker: Common market knowledge that some banks sideline SG talents‘).
He wrote to ST Forum in the midst of a public uproar over a recent finding by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) that 30 of the 47 companies put on watchlist for suspected discriminatory hiring practices, came from the financial and professional services sectors. One is a financial institution with almost three-quarters of their PMETs coming from the “same nationality” and another, a bank with two-thirds of its PMETs also of the “same nationality”
Defending the interests of Singaporeans, Mr Koh wrote, “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.”
“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,” he added.
Mr Koh’s forum letter was widely circulated on social media prompting the Managing Director of Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Ravi Menon, to reply. In his reply, Menon finally acknowledged publicly that majority (57%) of senior management positions in the banking industry are now held by foreigners, a common market knowledge which Mr Koh has mentioned (‘MAS: 57% of senior management positions in banking industry held by foreigners‘).
Nevertheless, Menon assured, “My colleagues and I are committed to growing the Singaporean core in the financial sector.”
Menon even said he has asked his team to reach out to the retired Singaporean banker, Mr Koh, for his views and suggestions, in an attempt to show MAS’ commitment to grow the Singaporean core.
Not the first time Mr Koh writes to defend interests of Singaporeans
In fact, this is not the first time Mr Koh has written to the media advocating for more representations of Singaporeans in senior management in banks and thereby, protecting the interests of Singaporeans.
As far back as 2013, he has already written to ST Forum talking about having a Singaporean first policy in the Singapore’s financial industry. On 27 Jun 2013, he wrote in to propose ways to strengthen the Singaporean core in the banking sector.
Unfortunately, not long after Mr Koh wrote his piece, he earned a sharp rebuke from former senior managing director of Temasek Holdings, Michael Dee, saying that nationality-based hiring goes against meritocracy as practised in Singapore.
Luckily, Worker’s Party MP Pritam Singh came to defend Mr Koh (‘“Singaporean-first” not about rejecting meritocracy: Pritam Singh‘, 7 Jul 2013).
Replying to Mr Dee, Mr Singh said that the significant number of foreigners – their economic contributions notwithstanding – in senior-level and middle-management positions in Singapore across various industries, such as banking, has led to a perceptible feeling of a glass ceiling and insecurity among the many Singaporeans over their job and career prospects.
“Mr Koh’s letter does not evince a rejection of meritocracy, but reflects what Singaporeans of all political hues recognise – that Singapore’s pro-business and foreign-talent-friendly policies must not come at the cost of capable and deserving Singaporeans facing lackluster career and job opportunities in their own country,” Mr Singh pointed out.
“Foreign businesses should look towards tailoring their human resource policies to fit the local socio-political realities of today, not yesteryear. This can be done without alienating foreign employees or giving Singaporeans an unfair advantage that would ultimately be to their detriment.”
Mr Singh also advocated a “Singaporean-first” hiring policy. That is, to consider Singaporean job applicants first before considering foreign ones. In fact, Mr Singh mentioned this even before the Fair Consideration Framework was announced by MOM on 23 Sep 2013.
“Career advancement options that can assure qualified Singaporeans of jobs at the upper management levels, and training opportunities for locals to improve their career prospects, must be introduced,” Mr Singh further added.
“Foreign businesses that adopt such practices are likely to earn considerable goodwill from Singaporeans, attract better-qualified Singaporean applicants, and be seen to be among the better employers in Singapore.”
In any case, over the years, Mr Koh continues to write to the media championing the interests of Singaporeans in Singapore:
- 29 Jun 2013 – “Banking on Singaporean Talent”
- 5 Jul 2013 – “Law required to level playing field in banking sector“
- 3 Feb 2015 – “Raise non-PMET salaries to attract right local talent“
- 31 May 2016 – “Holistic solution needed to problem of laid-off PMETs“
Mr Koh, whose last position before his retirement was Vice President and Vice Chairman of the Credit Committee in Arab Bank, is a living proof that Singapore does have its own talents and that Singaporean talents are more than capable to hold senior management positions in the banks in Singapore.
It’s interesting to note that in spite of Mr Koh’s earlier writings to the media 7 years ago, only now did MAS finally decide to “reach out” to him to solicit his views and suggestions on growing the Singaporean core. Perhaps it has something to do with the PAP government losing 2 GRCs in the recent GE?