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Speech at MAS-IBF "Growing Timber" Webinar

Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng, UBS

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


  1. Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you at today’s “Growing Timber” webinar. I would like to thank UBS, for hosting me to a visit of your impressive new premises, and the webinar today.


  2. There are three key points that I want to cover today:
    1. Firstly, the importance of staying open and connected;
    2. Secondly, ensuring opportunities for Singaporeans in the financial sector; and
    3. Thirdly, providing more overseas work opportunities for Singaporeans.


    How the financial sector has grown over the years

  3. Over the years, our financial institutions (FIs), with support from MAS and other industry partners, have grown the sector by many folds and created good jobs for our people.
    1. Today, the sector is a key driver of growth and jobs, accounting for close to 16% of nominal GDP and employing around 170,000 people.
    2. About 21,000 financial sector jobs were created in the last five years, with 16,000 going to Singaporeans.

  4. This progress did not come easy and was certainly not by chance.


  5. Our financial sector was borne out of the need to support our strategy of export-led industrialisation and the multinational corporations that were setting up in Singapore.
    1. Over the years, we worked hard to provide a conducive and supportive business environment.
    2. In doing so, we managed to attract overseas investments and businesses to come here and build a financial hub. This has not just served Singapore, but also the region and the world.
    3. At the same time, this enabled us to level-up the only natural resource we have – our skilled workforce.


  6. Many global FIs have set up and grown their businesses here.
    1. They developed new activities and business lines here, provided the networks, and brought in new expertise to benefit Singaporeans.


  7. UBS is one such player.
    1. The bank first established a presence in Singapore some 50 years ago to start private banking business.
    2. What began as an endeavour with a handful of professionals has grown to over 3,000 employees, of which 60% are Singaporeans.
    3. Singapore is now its APAC hub for wealth management, and single trading hub in Asia for its FX, Rates and Credits business.
    4. UBS has also set up its Asia innovation lab and its first global Cyber-fusion centre in Singapore to serve as the bank’s regional centre to perform cyber threat intelligence, threat modelling, and external monitoring.
    5. For UBS to site these critical operations here is a concrete show of confidence for Singapore.


  8. UBS has also invested in our people. The bank set up its largest UBS University APAC campus in the region to equip its workforce with technical finance domain knowledge and build a pipeline of leaders.
    1. For example, in 2019, Edmund Koh was the first Singaporean to be appointed as UBS APAC President, overseeing the bank’s entire business in Asia-Pacific.




    Staying open and connected

  9. Being open and connected has enabled Singapore to establish our position as a key financial hub known for our expertise, connectivity and talent.
    1. Today, we rank amongst the top financial centres in the world.[1]
    2. We serve as a control tower of business activities and operations in the region.


  10. This is remarkable given our lack of hinterland, and we must not take what we have built over the years for granted.
    1. There are many other financial centres who are just as hungry and perhaps more equipped with strong hinterland demand to make them attractive locations for international FIs.
    2. With financial services becoming increasingly borderless and fast-changing especially amid COVID-19, our ability to maintain our status as a key financial hub will be challenged.


  11. To ensure that we defend and grow our financial sector, we need to remain open and connected to the world, and harness the diversity and international complexion of our workforce.


  12. This brings me to my next point on the issue of manpower. Our fundamental approach towards our workforce policies have remained unchanged over the years.
    1. Singaporeans will always remain the core of our workforce.
    2. However, while we have a good talent pool, it is simply not large enough to fulfil all the needs of the sector.
    3. As a global financial hub, we would need to strike a delicate balance in ensuring that businesses have access to skills and manpower to grow and succeed, while ensuring that they invest in developing the local pipeline. Ultimately, this creates jobs and career progression opportunities for locals.
    4. We will therefore need to tap on global talent, alongside our locals, to meet skills shortages in areas such as cybersecurity and portfolio management, and bring new ideas and connections to strengthen our workforce as a team.


  13. But over time, just as we have been doing in the past, we want to grow our own timber. How do we do this?


  14. Capability transfer is key – we want to leverage the valuable experience and expertise of a global and diverse workforce, to build up capabilities within our talent pool.
    1. One example is SMBC, a Japanese bank that has its APAC regional hub in Singapore.
      1. The bank serves many international clients including Japanese clients. The staff work closely with their colleagues in its Japanese headquarters.
      2. To expand its talent pool and build up its Singaporean leadership pipeline, SMBC pairs Singaporeans with Japanese expats to take on joint responsibilities in several senior positions.
      3. Overtime, the goal is for Singaporeans to be solely responsible for a number of these positions.


  15. As a global financial centre, we need to strike a delicate balance in ensuring that businesses have access to skills and manpower to grow and succeed, while creating opportunities for locals to grow and progress.


  16. I would like to take this opportunity to address any concerns about Singapore’s continued openness to global talent, especially given border control measures necessitated by the COVID-19 crisis.
    1. We understand that many firms have faced challenges in bringing in foreign manpower, given our careful border control measures to manage the risks of importing COVID-19 cases.
    2. The calibration of the Employment Pass minimum qualifying salary to keep pace with the rising local salary levels has also added to this.


  17. Singapore’s careful border control measures in the past year were necessary to ensure that our healthcare infrastructure is not overwhelmed by a surge in imported cases.
    1. Having said that, with the steady increase in local and international vaccination rates, Singapore is gradually reopening its borders and allowing more workers to enter while ensuring to minimise the public health risk to the community.
    2. Since 10 August, we have resumed entry approvals for vaccinated long-term pass holders and their dependants with travel history to higher risk countries.


  18. While we remain open to global talent, we must also ensure that foreigners who join our workforce bring with them complementary skills and expertise to contribute to our economy.
    1. Last year, we raised our EP minimum qualifying salary, and set a higher bar for applicants in the financial sector to take into account the higher wage norms in the sector. These thresholds will continue to be reviewed regularly.
    2. We are also exploring additional refinements to our EP framework to achieve our objectives of a complementary and diverse foreign workforce, and a strong Singaporean core.


    Ensuring Opportunities for Singaporeans

  19. We recognise that an open and globalised labour market like ours can mean intensified and stiffer competition for Singaporeans.
    1. I empathise with and understand Singaporeans’ concerns and anxieties.
    2. The Government is committed to ensuring that Singaporeans face fair competition for all the jobs available in the market.

  20. We have been preparing our workforce and future generations, to equip them with in-demand skills as well as future-ready capabilities, so that they can compete strongly.
    1. We have launched career conversion programmes to re-skill mid-career professionals into hiring roles where there are skills gaps, such as wealth planning managers.
    2. One example is the Technology in Finance Immersion Programme (TFIP), which equips mid-career professionals with skills to take on tech jobs and expand our local tech talent pool.
      1. The programme has benefitted 260 individuals since 2019.
      2. To support more Singaporeans, more than 500 traineeship places have been committed by FIs under the refreshed TFIP this year.


  21. While ensuring that our workers can compete strongly, we will also make sure that the competition is fair.
    1. Our work pass framework ensures Singaporeans are fairly considered for jobs.
    2. To tackle workplace discrimination, we set up the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), developed and enforced the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, and introduced and enforced the Fair Consideration Framework.
    3. The Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness will study how legislation can be designed to better address workplace discrimination, whilst preserving a non-litigious workplace culture. This review will cover discrimination on all grounds, including nationality age, race, religion and disability.


  22. As we continue to develop Singapore as an international financial centre, we need to equip Singaporeans with international capabilities so that more can take on regional and global roles across all levels.
    1. Given our international complexion, 40% of jobs in the financial sector are primarily regional and global roles.[2]
    2. Financial sector professionals need to have international capabilities such as the ability to work with people from different cultures, and run a business well in different operating environments, to do well in these roles.
    3. Those in senior roles also need to have a good understanding of the global business context and be able to manage a diverse group of stakeholders.


  23. Overseas work experience offers exposure to different people and new business cultures.
    1. It provides opportunities for us to gain first-hand understanding of overseas markets, learn to connect well with the locals of another country, and perhaps even pick up a new language.
    2. These postings also offer the opportunity to challenge ourselves in new areas. To grow and thrive under such circumstances expands one’s capabilities and builds resilience and adaptability.


    Embracing Opportunities for Overseas Postings

  24. This brings me to my final point - an important one. FIs have shared that Singaporeans are sometimes reluctant to go abroad, citing reasons such as children’s education, parents’ health or spouse’s career.
    1. I can empathise with this. Singapore is, after all, a very comfortable place to live in, being ranked top in Asia in Mercer’s Quality of Living poll.


  25. But for us to sustain our competitive advantage, we need more Singaporeans to embrace, especially for those looking to progress in your careers, for two important reasons.
    1. Firstly, our domestic market is small with limited growth in domestic-facing roles. As our financial sector continues to grow, more international facing jobs and opportunities will be created.
      • Because these are not domestic jobs, the competition for jobs, especially at the more senior levels, will be with the diverse global workforce.
      • To better position ourselves, Singaporeans aiming for these roles should be prepared to be posted overseas to gain exposure and expand your worldview.
    2. Secondly, a broader worldview can only truly be attained by experiencing the world first-hand.
      • The overseas experience bolsters your credentials.
      • As an international financial centre, Singapore has achieved so much from being plugged into the best models and innovations worldwide.
      • Likewise, Singaporeans stand to benefit from the wealth of perspectives, ideas, and cultures around the globe through embarking on overseas postings.


  26. Overseas postings have enabled many to progress in their careers and take on more senior roles over time. An example is Mr Kelvin Tan, who has been appointed the Head of Sustainable Finance & Investments, ASEAN at HSBC.
    1. Kelvin had been the CEO of HSBC Thailand since 2015, and only recently returned to Singapore to take up his new appointment.
    2. According to Kelvin, the overseas posting was an invaluable experience as it had exposed him to different cultures and values, allowing him to grow in his leadership style. While he had covered clients in the region out of Singapore in the past, having to relocate and to live and adapt to a different environment and financial framework, really helped him understand the local nuances, which is crucial when dealing with both internal as well as external stakeholders.


  27. There are many examples of Singaporeans who have spent years working overseas and were eventually promoted into leadership positions.
    1. They include our panellists – Edmund of UBS, Kee Joo of HSBC, and Sherene of JPM Asset Management, who will share more about their personal experiences later during the panel discussion.


  28. While they all took different journeys, they were all willing to take on new challenges, go regional, work their way up, and grow.
    1. I urge more Singaporeans to step out of your comfort zone, take up regional postings and broaden your horizons.
    2. For those who may not have the opportunity to go overseas, there are other ways to grow your cultural understanding. For example, you can take part in projects or roles that allow you to interact with your overseas counterparts; or get to know your foreign colleagues.


  29. FIs have a part to play in nurturing our local talents to become your global talents. In fact, many are already doing so.
    1. Citi has about 120 Singaporeans working abroad in 16 countries; close to 30% of them are in senior positions.
    2. HSBC also has over 260 Singaporeans in other countries; more than 20% are in senior positions.


  30. The government is also committed to supporting FIs and individuals in developing international capabilities.


  31. One way that MAS does this is through the International Postings Programme, or iPOST in short, which supports FIs to send Singaporeans on overseas postings.
    1. Since 2016, close to 110 promising Singaporeans have been supported on such postings, and most of them have returned to Singapore to take on larger roles here.


  32. MAS will be expanding the iPOST to support more Singaporeans to work overseas, especially in other Asian countries.
    1. Asia is an important market for many FIs, and we want to more aggressively grow our own timber - pool of talent with Asian acumen.
    2. MAS will defray the salary costs for postings to Asia, in addition to other costs such as airfare, accommodation and allowances.
    3. Support will be extended beyond those in the mid- to senior-level who take on bigger managerial and leadership roles, to younger and specialist talents.


  33. There is also value in instilling global mindsets and capabilities into the DNA of our Singaporean workforce, especially our young.
    1. For example, JPM Asset Management has a Global Associate Training Programme where top analysts are posted to New York or London for a month-long stint to participate in projects with their peers from around the world. Through this, they learn more about the global business and build professional networks.


  34. Through the Finance Associate Management Scheme (FAMS), MAS supports FIs in sending young Singaporean talent on overseas rotations to be groomed.
    1. Currently, FIs receive $5,000 per month to defray costs for sending each Singaporean overseas under this programme. From next year, MAS will extend the funding duration of this overseas component from 3 to 6 months.
  35. I hope that the FIs will tap on these enhanced schemes to equip Singaporeans with international capabilities and mindsets to navigate and thrive in the global business environment.



  36. In conclusion, we need a globalised workforce to power our international financial centre – one where workers are equipped with international capabilities, and comprises a strong workforce that synergises local capabilities and global talent. 

  37. To ensure that Singaporeans have access to good jobs and career prospects, we hope to work closely with FIs to equip Singaporeans with relevant skills and expertise through more overseas postings.

  38. We also need Singaporeans to embrace these opportunities to gain overseas experience. As the saying goes, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Thank you.

[1] Based on the 2021 Global Financial Centre Index (GFCI), Singapore ranks 5th. We have moved up 1 place from the 2020 GFCI, and are now just behind Shanghai (3rd) and Hong Kong (4th).

[2] Based on data from MAS’ Manpower Survey 2020, as at 31 Dec 2019.