Based on Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)’s estimates, 44 per cent of senior roles in financial services sectors are Singaporeans, 20 per cent are Permanent Residents (PRs) while 36 per cent are work pass holders, where these proportions have remained stable in recent years, the Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung revealed during the debate of President’s Address on Tuesday (1 Sept).
Addressing the concern that 44 per cent could be too low, Mr Ong, who is also the board member of MAS explained that the higher share of foreigners in senior positions is “mainly due to the large international component of the activities here” as Singapore has grown as a global financial hub.
He said, “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.
“These functions tap on growth outside Singapore, and support the region’s development. In so doing, they bring opportunities and jobs here,” he elaborated.
Mr Ong also noted that the staff profile of regional and global activities in any leading financial centre “tends to be more internationally diverse”, especially for senior roles.
“As MNCs, financial institutions will fill these ranks with global expertise that they deploy across their offices,” he explained.
Citing the MAS’s data, he said that in 2019, Singaporeans accounted for about 70 per cent of senior management roles in retail banks’ local functions, but in non-retail banks – where there is a higher concentration of regional and global functions – the proportion is lower, at about 40 per cent.
“But this does not mean that Singaporeans are getting the short end of the stick, because this is not a zero-sum game,” he asserted.
Giving his justifications, the Minister described that while the share of Singaporeans in senior roles has remained steady, the absolute number of Singaporeans in these roles has increased.
He continued, “This is because as we have grown as a financial centre, the base has expanded significantly. So same share, but of a growing base.”
According to MAS, the number of senior positions in the financial service sectors in Singapore increased from 3,900 in 2014 to 5,900 in 2019, while the absolute number of senior jobs that went to Singaporeans increased from 1,700 to 2,600.
“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,” Mr Ong noted.
By having the global functions here, he said Singaporeans gain “precious global and regional expertise” which “complements overseas assignments and exposure”.
He added that these are key to preparing Singaporeans to assume senior management roles in global firms.
Concern of high concentration of one nationality in the technology departments of financial institutions “will remain”, says Ong Ye Kung
Touching on the unfair hiring practice, Mr Ong clarified that “there is no place” for such practices in the financial services sector.
“MAS holds our financial institutions to high standards and will not condone firms that fall short of fair hiring practices,” he remarked.
However, Mr Ong acknowledged that the concern of high concentration of one nationality in the technology departments of financial institutions “will remain” as the shortage of local manpower is unlikely to meet “an explosion of demand” for technology professionals.
“There is an explosion of demand for technology professionals and we are unable to fill all the posts domestically.
“We are furiously growing our local talent pipeline in this area, through mid-career skills upgrading, and expanding computer science places rapidly in our universities. But this is not likely to meet the demand and foreign manpower is still needed,” he noted.
Ong Ye Kung cautions the ‘us-versus-them’ perspective may take hold among the Singaporeans
During his debate speech, Mr Ong also warned that the nativism and the ‘us-versus-them’ perspective may take hold among the Singaporeans amid these times of economic difficulties and job insecurity.
“We have seen how toxic the discussion can become in other countries, and how it can change the course of history.
“This is not a discourse Singaporeans deserve, nor do I think this is what most Singaporeans want. The more widely held view, I think, understands the international character of our financial centre, but wants to see Singaporeans do better, with greater assurance of fair hiring practices that put us on a level playing field,” he said.
Although Singapore is emerging as one of the nerve centres in the global financial system, Mr Ong however cautioned that the position cannot be taken for granted because “the competition is relentless and our competitors are hungry”.
“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.
“We must continue to work in concert, to further strengthen this partnership (with financial institutions), grow this international financial centre in Asia, invest in and grow our Singaporean talents, and make lives better through the generations.”
Penning their thoughts under the Facebook page of The Straits Times and TODAY, many netizens felt it is ridiculous that the percentage of Singaporeans holding the senior positions is relatively low as compared to the foreigners as they presumed that Singaporeans should make up a higher proportion in these roles.
Some netizens also urged the authorities to provide more data in details, instead of just giving a broad and general report.
Looking at the data given by the Minister, a handful of netizens commented that the outcome does not change over the time. “In other words, whatever MAS and MOM did in the past years to grow Singaporean core didn’t help at all…” one netizen wrote.
However, one netizen opined that the Government will “never be straightforward” in revealing the real figures. “If they cannot convince you, they will confuse you”.
Responding to Mr Ong’s remark about “us-versus-them” mindset, a few netizens argued that Singaporeans only demand for “a level playing field” and the Government’s priority for now should be reducing the local unemployment rate in this period of time where more retrenchment will be coming.