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Banks in Singapore act to deepen local talent pool

Lenders roll out programmes to initiate ever younger local students into the world of finance - university undergrads, poly graduates, and even junior college and ITE students

Banks are going further upstream in a bid to grow the local talent pipeline and develop homegrown financial leaders.


BANKS are going further upstream in a bid to grow the local talent pipeline and develop homegrown financial leaders.

First-year university undergraduates, polytechnic graduates and even students from the junior colleges and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) are among the new targets of local and foreign lenders hungry for staff in Singapore.

Their efforts to proactively increase the Singaporean base comes after the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) engaged the top leadership of key financial institutions on the need to build a stronger local core.

To do so, many lenders have widened the net to polytechnic students.

MAS will extend a SkillsFuture programme aimed at helping polytechnic graduates secure employment in the financial sector, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, said this month. He noted that major banks here have committed to provide at least 200 places for polytechnic graduates in the coming year through this initiative.

Local banks already have long-standing tie-ups with polytechnics. OCBC takes in 450 polytechnic interns each year and has a Polytechnic Trainee Bank Officer Scheme. In January, DBS also started its Service and Operations Executive Programme, a two-year scheme on consumer banking operations for polytechnic graduates.

Foreign banks are catching on to the strategy, too.

Under Barclays' new apprenticeship scheme, young diploma holders join teams as diverse as finance, human resources and technology.

Most recently, JPMorgan launched its one-year apprenticeship for polytechnic graduates, welcoming its first intake of 14 in April. Apprentices will take on full-time roles, particularly in operations, and technology and cybersecurity, said Phillip de Josselin, JPMorgan's chief administrative officer for Asean.

Citibank has been offering internships for polytechnic students, participating in their career fairs, and coaching them on resume writing and interview skills. Several other foreign banks such as Standard Chartered are exploring similar initiatives under the SkillsFuture drive.

At the same time, the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) is developing programmes with universities and polytechnics to equip students with job-ready skills.

One lender is also looking to ITE for staff besides polytechnics. Last year, Maybank piloted its five-month industrial attachment programme for students in the NITEC Business Services stream to work as service ambassadors at its branches.

While universities have long been the recruitment hunting ground, some lenders have deepened their engagement with them.

In 2013, Citibank rolled out two initiatives for undergraduates: the Citi Mentorship Programme and the Citi Banking 101 Foundational Programme, benefiting close to 600 students.

Since 2012, Maybank has held the GO Ahead Challenge, its annual international case competition for undergraduates and fresh graduates, to identify and nurture young talent.

Banks are also turning to younger students, apart from fresh graduates and final-year undergraduates.

In June, UBS unveiled its Youth Finance Academy to introduce pre-tertiary students to banking and finance, with an intake of 50 students from 18 junior colleges and polytechnics. UBS also launched a 12-month Industrial Placement Programme in 2014 for penultimate-year undergraduates.

JPMorgan formed four dedicated school teams last year to organise outreach activities at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Management University (SMU), and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

Through the teams, JPMorgan reaches out to undergraduates at all levels. "It's building a relationship with not just the graduating students but also the first and second-year students, to have them start getting to know JPMorgan before they even think about looking for a job," said Chew Ying Ying, JPMorgan's head of campus recruitment for Asia.

Deutsche Bank also engages first-year students with its DB Academy introductory programme started in 2012.

Another move is wooing overseas Singaporeans back home.

Standard Chartered engages external recruitment partners to look out for Singaporeans working abroad and seeking to come home. Deutsche Bank also has a similar outreach programme.

According to Neil Clark, director of finance job site eFinancialCareers, hiring managers here are showing a preference for local manpower. "This is because local candidates have a solid understanding of the operating environment and business culture, and are lower-risk hires in the long term," Mr Clark said.

In particular, JPMorgan Chase Bank is targeting to add 600 more employees to its current 3,000 in Singapore in the next 12-18 months, and wherever possible, it prefers to hire Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs), said Mr de Josselin.

Theresa Phua, Singapore head of human resources at DBS, said home- grown staff also have a wider network and connect better with local clients. DBS has been recently focusing on local manpower, and rolled out three talent development programmes two years ago. Headcount at DBS has risen more than 10 per cent since 2013.

At Credit Suisse, the proportion of Singaporean staff has grown steadily over the past three years, said Lito Camacho, the bank's vice-chairman for Asia Pacific. More than 70 per cent of its employees here are Singaporeans and PRs.

ANZ Singapore introduced in 2013 an internship programme in partnership with local universities and a talent development programme with a strong focus on Singaporeans.

Despite the greater focus on local manpower, however, job fit and relevant experience remain a priority; banks still turn to overseas hires when a specialised skill cannot be sourced locally.

To help Singaporeans develop in specialist tracks such as quantitative finance, risk management, and financial technology, MAS has set aside more scholarships under the expanded Financial Scholarship Programme.

Banks are also amping up efforts to upgrade employees' skills and groom Singaporeans for leadership roles.

In June, UOB launched the industry's first tertiary education programme for small business bankers, in partnership with SMU. Last year, Credit Suisse opened its wealth institute in Singapore to boost the local pool of wealth management professionals and financial services leaders, while OCBC's Smart Asia Programme was introduced for senior leaders to hone their agility in managing Asian markets' complexities.

Under SkillsFuture, MAS is working with the Institute of Banking & Finance (IBF), the industry, institutes of higher learning and training providers to build a strong Singaporean talent pipeline for the sector and come up with learning options for existing professionals.

The Association of Banks in Singapore is also collaborating with the regulator to identify gaps in the types of skill sets required, so as to complement existing training programmes.