SINGAPORE — Recently, TOC reported that an anonymous whistleblower in the banking sector raised concerns about senior staff appointments at Citibank’s Singapore branch, suggesting that the bank may be overlooking potentially viable local candidates in preference to existing staff from overseas.
She chose to stay anonymous due to job security concerns in her present employment and detailed the questionable hirings at Citibank.
The whistleblower highlighted that two Senior Vice Presidents (SVPs) were recruited from India by the Global Functions head at Citibank’s Changi Business Park. She noted that these SVPs continued to recruit more India-based staff, to work in India for the Global Functions Head in Singapore.
One of the Indian SVPs was transferred to Singapore in February 2023, resulting in significantly higher costs than their original salary in India.
The whistleblower found it contradictory that the bank did not advertise the position or interview any local candidates, contrary to the recommendations of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).
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.
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.”
Lack of substantial response despite the whistleblower raised concern through Citibank’s Ethics website
Despite raising these concerns through Citibank’s Ethics website, the whistleblower received a lack of substantial response and was directed to a specific Citibank representative for more details, raising further concerns about anonymity and accountability.
The whistleblower provided several reasons to support her allegations, for examples, pointing out that the newly appointed Senior Vice President had a degree from a lesser-known university in a third-world country.
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.
“Implausible” that a Singaporean graduate from a top-rated local university couldn’t perform same job
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.
She also questioned the motives behind the transfer to Singapore, as the individual was able to work remotely from India, and the transfer significantly increased costs without benefiting local projects.
The whistleblower emphasized that individuals with a salary of S$20,000 could comfortably cover their living expenses, making the transfers seem unnecessary.
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.
Reddit closed thread from further discussion while Hardwarezone removed the thread entirely
The article sparked heated online discussions, with netizens expressing agreement with the whistleblower and acknowledging the long-standing existence of such practices in the Singapore financial sector.
While the Reddit thread on the topic remains open for netizens to view, moderators on Reddit have closed the thread for further discussion, and the Singapore online forum, Hardwarezone removed the discussion thread entirely.
It is worth noting that Hardwarezone is operated by Hardware Zone Private Limited, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SPH Media Trust.
A Redditor shared experience of interviewing at a bank for five different roles, suspecting it was merely to fulfill an “interviewed a Singaporean” quota
One Redditor shared his personal experience on Reddit, and revealed that he had attended interviews for five different roles over the course of 2 years within a specific function in a bank at Changi Business Park, all the positions were allegedly filled by non-Singaporeans.
“I interacted with a HR representative and the same group of bosses (all of whom are the same nationality) who did the interviews. The Redditor who they hired was always a non-singaporean (as confirmed by my friend) for all 5 roles.”
The Redditor noticed a pattern after reaching the final rounds of interviews multiple times and realizing that the interviewers, who were all of the same nationality, seemed familiar with them. Despite his qualifications and knowledge, the Redditor were consistently overlooked for these roles.
After being contacted for a sixth role by the same group of bosses, the Redditor declined, recognizing that the interviewers were unlikely to change their decision and suspecting that the interviews were merely to fulfil an “interviewed a Singaporean” quota.
Another Redditor shared his experience of interviewing with Citibank approximately two years ago.
The initial rounds were conducted by an Indian interviewer for a compliance role, including a Java and SQL interview with the interviewer and two colleagues. However, a week later, an additional SQL interview was arranged, with extremely difficult questions posed to the Redditor, which he struggled to understand.
Despite the confusion and mismatch between the stated requirements of a compliance role and the technical focus of the interview, the Redditor received no response afterwards, implying that he did not get the job.
A Redditor chimed in, stating that such practices are widespread in multinational corporations (MNCs), emphasized that every country should have basic protections and safeguards in place for their own citizens, but unfortunately, Singapore has restrictions for Singaporean companies rather than its citizens.
The Redditor mentioned that in FAANG companies (referring to Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), directors and VPs are predominantly from India, the US, or Australia.
While acknowledging that there are talented individuals, he believed that, on average, the quality of these appointments tends to be below average due to a lack of regional knowledge and domain expertise.
In emerging markets, becoming a director is relatively easier if one is above average and has spent a decade in the company. However, in Singapore, it can take up to 20 years and face stiff competition.
“Then do an internal transfer and all of a sudden you have a person who is probably 50-75% of capability becoming up in the ladder.”
Singaporean mother recently quit job as bank’s assistant manager, shared her own experience of discrimination and exclusion in the workplace
In a comment on TOC’s article, a netizen shared her personal experience of facing similar, if not worse, situations while working at OCBC.
Despite holding the position of Assistant Manager, she felt excluded from the working team due to the majority of team members being recent arrivals to Singapore.
Ultimately, her Indian manager informed her that her performance rating was among the lowest during the year-end review, leading the netizen to resign from their job.
“I felt sad because as a mother, I spent four years(studying at NUS for one year, and work three years) going back to the workplace, but now I have to stop and take a rest. Because what I have experienced is too unbearable.”
Experienced overseas professional called for Singaporean managers to put more effort into identifying local talents
A netizen who mentioned that he had been working overseas for many years and very senior in his role, shared his experience of being headhunted for a role in a smaller bank in Singapore, but lost out to a foreigner who had significantly less experience, despite the claim to “bring Singaporean talent back”.
“In the panel of interviewers, none Singaporean if I could recall correctly. Had a chat with the HR head, who isn’t Singaporean and asked him if he would send his kids for National service. Radio silence. ”
“They are going to the US from Singapore’s instead of India. Interesting.”
He expressed sadness at the current situation and believed that Singaporeans make better managers than some of the foreign talent recently hired.
He called for Singaporean managers to put more effort into identifying local talents and discard the notion of Singaporeans being cheaper than foreigners, especially at the managerial level, advocating for equal pay.
Netizens debate over remarks and call for inclusive policies to address job concerns
Disagreeing with the use of the term “losers” by some netizens, another netizen defended other Singaporean netizens’ rights to express their frustrations and confess their own experience online.
“A lot of us did national service, which probably means nothing to you and should be voicing out more. And frankly, you wouldn’t see these comments 10 years ago. It’s a great improvement on citizen participation, which you are unlikely to appreciate.”
The netizen observed that most of the comments focused on how government policies have become disconnected from the ground level due to localized hiring practices and stressed that the issue should be addressed not based on nationality but because it is inconsistent with policy objectives and may impact votes. They urged giving these individuals a chance to voice their concerns.
“We should avoid elitists comments like how many CEOs are Indians or Chinese or white dudes. It’s afterall a game of large numbers. We are talking about jobs for the middle class and young professionals, people who are key to the country’s future development.”
Suggestion to get rid of long-overdue unfair hiring practices
Another Reddit comment suggests a potential solution, emphasizing that economic incentives, rather than fines, could be effective.
In a comment on TOC’s article, a netizen pointed out that discrimination against Singaporeans is not limited to the banking industry but extends to other sectors as well.
The netizen expressed scepticism towards relying on authorities to address the situation, considering it futile to ask the “fox to guard the hen house.”
“The only way to get back our jobs and our country is to have a complete change of leadership, replacing the present traitorous and self-serving politicians with patriotic people who have a heart for Singaporeans.”
Retired Singaporean banker exposed in 2020 that it is common market knowledge that some banks sideline SG talents
In fact, back in August 2020, a retired Singaporean banker Raymond Koh Bock Swi wrote to ST Forum, stating that it is common market knowledge that some banks sideline SG talents.
“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.”
“Once hired, these foreign staff can easily and in a short time secure their permanent resident (PR) status in Singapore. Therefore, when analysing the actual makeup of local staff, it is misleading to combine the Singaporeans and PRs.”
Mr Koh was refuting what the banks told the media recently that they do maintain a strong local core in their workforce (‘Banks say large majority of their employees are “locals”‘).
The Managing Director of Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Ravi Menon, replied to Mr Koh’s letter, and confirmed that the majority of senior management positions in the banking industry are held by foreigners.
“MAS estimates that Singapore citizens account for about 70 per cent of senior management roles in retail banks’ local functions.
Across the entire sector, the proportion is about 43 per cent, reflecting Singapore’s role as an international financial centre.”
That is to say, Singaporeans only occupied 43 per cent of the senior management positions in the entire banking sector.
In other words, foreigners held the other 57 per cent. Out of 10 senior bankers in Singapore, one would expect 6 to be foreigners.
The whistle-blower also noted in her submission 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”