Whistleblower calls out alleged unfair hiring practices in Singapore banking industry

Whistleblower calls out alleged unfair hiring practices in Singapore banking industry

An anonymous whistleblower, working in the banking sector, has voiced serious concerns over senior staff appointments within Citibank’s Singapore branch from India, suggesting that the bank may be overlooking potentially viable local candidates.

The whistleblower, who chose to stay anonymous due to job security concerns in her present local bank, detailed alleged instances of favoritism at Citibank. She drew inspiration from a GRAB delivery rider who openly challenged the issue of foreigners displacing Singaporeans in the job market. Despite disagreeing with his approach, she commended his determination in confronting such biases.

According to her source, the Global Functions head, operating from Citibank’s Changi Business Park, had recruited two Senior Vice Presidents (SVPs) from India. She noted that these SVPs continued to recruit more India-based staff, to work in India for the Global Functions Head in Singapore.

“This cronyism needs to stop. Singaporeans need to start reporting on these abuses of power,” the whistleblower stressed.

Her contact’s concern heightened when one of the Indian SVPs, having served Citibank India for two years and 11 months – of which eight months was as SVP, was transferred to Singapore in February 2023, which incurred significantly higher costs than their original salary in India.

The bank, however, did not advertise the position or interview any local candidates, which seemed contradictory – to the whistleblower – to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP)’s recommendations.

She highlighted, “The salary of a typical SVP in Singapore is around 20,000 SGD p/mth. This transfer is blatant cronyism in its simplest form.”

However, under current regulations, a company does not have to advertise the position if it is an intra-company transfer from overseas. Such transfers also do not affect the company’s quota for foreign staff.

It should also be noted that the fixed monthly salary of the job position is more than S$20,000, it too will be exempted from the requirement to advertise job vacancies on the Singapore jobs search portal MyCareersFuture.sg.

Despite her attempts to escalate these issues through Citibank’s Ethics website, she was disappointed by the lack of substantial response. Her concerns over anonymity were also heightened as she was directed to reach out to a specific Citibank representative for more details.

“All of the CEOs in the companies pretend to have a sizeable local demographic of permanent staff when there is also a sizeable foreign demographic of contract staff. I have been in both banking and non-banking companies and heard many stories from friends in especially the banking sector,” said the whistleblower.

“Changi Business Park is the worst case because about 3/4 of the employees there are not local. In all celebratory functions, the locals are the minority and it is very visible. For contract staff, who are majority not local, their employment agencies are all from India. Tata Consultancy Services, Virtusa, Larsen and Toubro, Nityo Infotech, HCL, etc.”

“You can see how easy it is for an Indian to come to Singapore and get a job through a contract role and work their way up to a permanent position. If Singaporeans just take an MRT to Expo MRT station in the morning on weekdays and just have a coffee near the bus stop there, your eyes will be opened wide. It is like you are in a different country”

She noted that the influx of foreign talents began in the early 2000s, and two decades later, one would expect that locals, after gaining the requisite skills and experience, would occupy top IT positions and manage these foreign professionals. However, contrary to expectations, it’s the foreign talents who continue to dominate top management positions, overseeing both their foreign peers and local staff.

The whistleblower expressed her deep-rooted concerns about the current situation and the future of the banking sector in Singapore, saying, “If this is the future of Singapore, I’m just biding my time to migrate to another country that values me. Being a PR in this country is sufficient enough to enjoy the fruits of labour of the country’s prosperity and success”

When asked about the possibility of Singaporeans not being able to fill up the position and therefore requiring the intra-transfer, the whistleblower said she does not believe that Singaporeans cannot do the job that the SVP can do.

The whistleblower provided several reasons to support her allegations:

  1. Firstly, she pointed out that the new Senior Vice President graduated from a university in a third-world country – her Masters degree also from an unrenowned institution. She suggested that it’s implausible that a Singaporean graduate from a top-rated local university couldn’t perform her job for a S$20,000 salary. Particularly considering that the role is a typical project manager position. For perspective, the SVP’s university ranks #521-530 in the QS World University Rankings 2023, whereas the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) occupy the 11th and 19th spots, respectively.
  2. The whistleblower questioned the true intentions behind her transfer to Singapore. She was able to manage her work remotely from India during the pandemic, however, transferring to Singapore effectively doubled her salary and burdening projects with unnecessary costs when that funding could have been allocated to local support for the projects. Instead, corporate transfers occur seemingly without hindrance, driving up costs such as housing rental and living expenses. These individuals can maintain their cost of living comfortably with a S$20k salary. If she sets a precedent for this department, she warns, it will inevitably lead to similar transfers from the rest of the Indian team under this new Global Functions Head.
  3. Lastly, she voiced concerns about Singaporeans not being given the opportunity to showcase their capabilities as job positions are not being advertised. The whistleblower shared personal experiences of applying for jobs in banks like Citi, DBS, Standard Chartered only to be told that most of the positions are already filled. She claimed that these banks simply post the positions online on platforms like LinkedIn and MyCareersFuture.sg to comply with regulations, but in her view, this is simply a façade in Singapore’s context. To add to the insult, she claimed, local human resource executives are unwittingly participating in this show. They source local candidates, prompt them to apply for the positions, conduct interviews, only to waste the candidates’ time because the hiring managers have already selected their foreign candidates.

Meanwhile, the banks in question, including Citibank, have publicly denied such allegations of unfair hiring in the past.

Looking back, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Tharman Shanmugaratnam stressed in 2013 the need for Singaporeans to secure top banking jobs.

Mr Tharman said, “It’s making sure there is a good spread of opportunities for Singaporeans within the different banking functions.”

Even as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) pledged to cultivate a “Singaporean core” in the financial industry, calling for the financial institutions here that they must commit to growing the local talent pool in 2020, the whistleblower argues that the issue persists.

The whistleblower also expresses frustration over the difficulty of broaching this subject in Parliament or the media due to the immediate accusations of racism and xenophobia.

The whistleblower questions, “How can we bring attention to and tackle this matter without being accused of xenophobia or racism?”

Citibank has been approached multiple times by TOC regarding the intra-transfer hire, but the attempts have been met with redirections to different departments and a lack of concrete responses.

The anonymous whistleblower’s concerns highlight the pressing issue of the need for fair and equitable hiring practices within Singapore’s banking sector.

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