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Keynote Speech at Institute of Banking and Finance Distinction Evening 2021

Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower & Second Minister for Trade and Industry, Marina Bay Sands

Mr Leong Sing Chiong, Deputy MD, MAS
IBF Council members
Award recipients
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen


1 Good Evening. Thank you for inviting me to the annual IBF Distinction Evening. Each year, the financial services industry gathers to recognise those who have reached the pinnacle of their professions, and those who have contributed significantly to the advancement of the industry, including the development of our workforce. I am delighted to be here to celebrate those achievements with you and congratulations to all the award recipients tonight.

2 The financial services sector has remained resilient despite the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the financial and insurance sector grew by 5.1% even as the overall economy contracted. In the first three quarters of this year, the sector grew by about 8%. Over the same period, financial services created 2,000 net jobs, of which all of them went to locals.

3 Beyond the top-line growth story, what is also interesting, are the shifting growth patterns, which will have a significant impact on skills needed in the financial services sector. This is also where the strong public and private partnership, with IBF serving as the central node to bring together industry-wide efforts to transform our workforce, becomes critical for the continued growth of the sector. 

  • Nam Sin had earlier shared on the achievements of the IBF over the past year. I will just reiterate two points, which are key to how we approach workforce development to ensure the continued success, competitiveness of Singapore on the global stage.

4 First, to seize opportunities for growth, we need to be always on the look-out for new growth drivers.

  • Through an annual Employment Outlook Survey, MAS and IBF keeps track of new business functions and job roles that financial institutions (or FIs) are hiring for.
  • For example, in 2021, it was observed that relationship managers accounted for 1,300 or 28% of hiring opportunities in non-technology roles in the financial sector in 2021.

5 We are also responsive to larger, structural trends that will determine the new norms of tomorrow.

  • The digitalisation wave started at least five years ago and was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Sustainability has also come to the fore of the global agenda.
  • Responding nimbly to both short term needs and large structural trends can make our workforce more responsive, more adaptable and more versatile.

6 Second, to meet the new job demands, we must develop multiple training pathways to re-skill and upskill our financial sector talent. This is critical given the ever-evolving life cycle of skills upgrade.

  • Take technology growth for example. Demand for tech talent, far outpaces our local supply. Against this backdrop, IBF has played a key role in coordinating industry efforts to train mid-career professionals from outside tech or finance, to be ready for careers in technology in finance. 
  • IBF actively uses insights from the Outlook Survey, to partner the industry to mount industry Career Conversion Programmes. These seek to train jobseekers for jobs in new growth areas.
  • For example, earlier, Nam Sim spoke about the Career Conversion Programme and other reskilling efforts by FIs, which have enabled more than 4,000 financial sector professionals to acquire new skills to move into new or expanded roles. I am therefore very heartened to note that more than 40% of them are mature locals.
    1. For the individual, this allows them to stay current and to contribute in new and broader ways.  
    2. For companies, this means continuing to have employees who are not only competent, but who also come with years of institutional knowledge, wisdom and network that can help the companies drive growth and even pivot into new areas. 
  • IBF, together with Workforce Singapore (WSG) and MAS, will continue to build on what has been achieved so far.

7 On that note, I would like to also take the opportunity to thank the FIs who have been strong partners of IBF, MAS and WSG in supporting the range of talent development and training initiatives. The strong partnership between IBF, the industry and the government, bodes well in ensuring that we continue to train and develop a high quality, well-skilled and versatile workforce, equipped to meet the challenges and needs of the future.


Future of Financial Services

8 I mentioned that the shifting growth patterns in the financial services sector will have profound impact on skills needs. Let me now elaborate and share three examples.

9 The first is an increasing role for Smart Capital to fuel economic transformation. The value of “capital” can no longer be measured solely in dollar terms. Instead, companies must now look for strategic investors – ones who can help them scale up, extract value and provide access to business connections, technology and expertise. This means that demand for private equity and venture capital will continue to grow.

10 Singapore has made significant progress in this space and is currently home to over 370 global and regional PE/VC managers today.

  • Many of them not only provide capital to help businesses grow, but also work closely with the businesses to accelerate growth.
  • A number of them also partner local universities to offer internships, so as to groom Singaporean talent in the area.

11 The second is the continued rise of the Digital Economy, in particular, embedded finance. Traditionally, we approach FIs to obtain financial services but today, these services are also embedded on non-financial platforms.

  • Take Grab for example – in Singapore, Grab users can use the app to book rides, order food, and make micro-investments into investment funds managed by asset managers.
  • The converse is also true – just as financial services are now “embedded” in other platforms, FIs are also becoming digital ecosystem players, offering customers non-financial services through their platforms.
  • Many retail banks have platforms that offer travel related services by combining financial services like travel-themed credit cards and insurance, with air ticket and hotel bookings.
  • The number of ways in which customers can access financial services will continue to grow as more FIs partner with non-financial players to expand their reach.

12 The rise of the Digital Economy needs to be supported by strong data capabilities - how data is processed, used and stored. It also needs to be underpinned by strong cross-border data connectivity to enable frictionless data flows.

  • MAS’ Project Greenprint, is one good example of our drive towards a data economy. The Project will develop four digital platforms to address the financial sector’s needs for clear, reliable and trusted data to support the growth of the green finance ecosystem.
  • The rise of the Digital Economy will drive up the demand for tech jobs – amongst others, we will need data analysts, software developers, infrastructure architects, and cyber security engineers.  

13 Last, but not least, we will see greater emphasis placed on Sustainability. At the recent COP26, nearly 200 countries across the world agreed to stronger climate action.

  • FIs have an important role to play to finance and support businesses transiting to adopting environmentally sustainable practices.
  • As investors and corporates become more conscious of the impact of climate change, they will value FIs that can offer sustainable services and investments.
  • To meet these demands, FIs will need to ramp up capabilities to carry out different aspects of green finance – this includes building and deepening capabilities in environmental risk management, climate-related disclosures, as well as the design and customisation of green finance instruments and solutions.

14 The above examples showcase some of the changes to the types of services that customers and consumers will need and demand for, and how they expect to receive it. This will change the type of skills and capabilities that FIs need, and the roles and functions that they will be out in the market, recruiting for.


Preparing for the Future

15 To seize the opportunities I have just shared about, I urge individuals to: build deep domain knowledge, acquire horizontal skills, and go international. Let me elaborate.

16 First, building deep domain knowledge and acquiring horizontal skills: To stay relevant and employable, individuals must strengthen their expertise in areas of strength and growth, to deliver new and transformed financial services. At the same time, as job roles demand a greater range of skillsets, individuals must proactively acquire key horizontal skills that will give them broader perspectives and enable them to take on a wider range of work. This will improve their employability even as the industry continues to transform.

17 Over the last few years, the number of professionals who have been awarded the IBF Certification has grown substantially. The Certification is an industry mark of recognition for finance professionals who have attained required skills for specific industry segments. I encourage more of you to deepen your expertise and pursue this industry-endorsed certification as it will position you well for opportunities in the sector

18 Outstanding Singaporean employees can also look to the Financial Specialist Scholarship (FSS) for postgraduate studies in key financial specialist areas. Since 2007, we have awarded over 280 scholarships to support training in specialist skills, such as data science, financial engineering and risk management.

19 FIs will also require professionals who are not only specialists, but also multi-disciplinarians who can adapt best to ever-changing business needs, business trends and customers’ expectations. 

  • Sustainability is a good example of a growth area that will require green specialists with deep domain knowledge, and multi-disciplinarians who can combine their expertise in financial services with a deeper understanding of sustainability tools and requirements.
  • In asset management for example, professionals will need both a strong asset management background, and a strong understanding of what portfolio actions can be taken to achieve sustainability investment goals.
  • I am pleased to share that early next year, IBF and MAS, in partnership with the industry, will launch the skills map for Sustainable Finance, to set out technical skills and competencies that would be useful reference to build capabilities in sustainable finance in the sector.

20 On this note, it is also very really reassuring to see that we have strong champions of skill upgrading amongst our IBF Fellows being recognised today, such as Wee Wei Min from OCBC and Lawrence Goh from UOB.

  • They have actively contributed to developing talent in sustainable finance and technology by providing valuable inputs on codifying skills requirements and supporting training. 
  • I hope more leaders like them can step forward to support workforce development in the industry.

21 Second, going international: Many global FIs locate substantive regional and international functions in Singapore, and these offer meaningful roles for Singaporeans.  In fact, four in 10 jobs in the financial sector in Singapore today are in regional and global roles.

  • But to do well in these roles, Singaporeans must be prepared, and adopt the mindset of being able to take on overseas assignments which will provide international exposure and stretch our ability to perform well in a foreign and cross-cultural environment.
  • We only have to look amongst our award recipients tonight, to see the benefits that overseas experience can have on your careers. 

22 Shee Tse Koon, recipient of the IBF Distinguished Fellow in Corporate Banking, has enjoyed a career that has taken him across Asia, the Middle East and the United Kingdom. Leveraging on that varied international experience, he returned to Singapore with DBS and is now the Group Executive and Singapore Country Head for DBS Bank.

23 Vincent Loh is another outstanding example of a leader who spent 22 years in risk management across Asia, undertaking various roles across different markets, including Singapore, Thailand, China and Indonesia. Today, he is the Chief Risk Officer for Standard Chartered Bank for Singapore and ASEAN.

  • I encourage more professionals to follow suit because the overseas experience will provide, prepare and position you well for international and leadership roles in the financial sector.  
  • MAS will support our FIs strongly through the International Posting Programme (iPost) to send your promising Singaporean employees.
  • MAS will also continually refine iPost to ensure its relevance to FIs.



24 The financial sector is one of the strongest and the most highly competitive sector of our economy. We want to be a leading global financial centre in Asia, connecting global markets, supporting Asia’s development, serving Singapore’s economy and most importantly, providing good jobs for Singaporeans. 

25 To further grow our role as an international financial hub, we must stay open to global investments and complementary talent from abroad, while sparing no effort to build a strong local talent pipeline.

26 But beyond skills upgrading and training, HR practices matter as well. Fairness at the workplace and diversity in the workforce are not merely aspirational targets, but must be widely practised in Singapore, including in the financial sector.

27 We are taking active steps to strengthen enforcement against workplace discrimination.

  • At the National Day Rally this year, Prime Minister announced that the Government will enshrine the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) guidelines into law.  This will send a strong and positive signal to the world that Singapore does not tolerate discrimination of any form.
  • The Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness, which I co-chair, is now working to complete our recommendations. Businesses and HR practitioners should already be familiar with these guidelines, as they have been in place for many years.

28 Finally, before I conclude, I want to acknowledge once again, our hosts for tonight, the IBF. IBF was set up in 1974, and over the decades, it has worked tirelessly to develop the professional competencies of the financial industry.

  • IBF has made very good progress in supporting our workers to acquire skills and access opportunities in the sector.
  • I am confident that IBF will continue to be a strong partner to the Government and the financial industry in growing the future of the financial services in Singapore.

29 I have spoken a lot about the future today. The thing about the future, as Doc Brown from the movie Back to the Future would say, is that it is not written yet. We are going to come together to write that future. Your future is whatever you make it to be. Let me say to everyone this evening: I have this very strong conviction that our financial centre has a bright future, please continue with your strong partnership with IBF and the Government, and make our shared future even brighter.

30 With that, thank you and have a good evening.