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AS THE net new jobs created in the financial sector last year hit its lowest level since 2009, and some who have been laid off are struggling to find new jobs, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is putting jobs and skills at the "front and centre" of its financial sector development.
MAS is working with financial institutions to identify early on jobs that might be at risk in the future, said Ravi Menon, managing director of MAS on Thursday.
"It is important to intervene upstream in the process well before retrenchments take place," said Mr Menon at a media briefing for the release of MAS's annual report.
This comes even as big questions swirl on whether the use of technology will create more jobs than those displaced.
"We really don't know. What we do know is that there will be jobs lost, and there will be new jobs. What the net effect is, is hard to say, especially if you look at specific segments and industries. I can't even generalise across financial services," said Mr Menon. "It's not unsafe to assume that... the role of the middleman is likely to come under threat."
The upcoming test case for the financial sector will emerge with the use of robo-advisers, and whether they can fully replace people offering counsel on financial investments.
"One area to watch very closely is robo-advisers. Are they better than a human financial planner? Let's see," said Mr Menon. "There are many aspects of giving advice and understanding the client, which I think are embedded in some core human skills. Our own sense, and the assumption that MAS has been operating, is that increasingly, you will use robo-advisory and algorithm-type services, but you will need some human interface along with it."
In 2016, some 2,800 jobs were created in the financial sector, after stripping out the jobs that were also displaced. This comes alongside the slowdown in the financial sector growth to 0.7 per cent from 5.7 per cent in 2015. But this is also the smallest net job creation for the sector since the crisis, when 2,200 jobs were created in 2009, data from the Ministry of Manpower shows.
Mr Menon was clear too that the 2016 net figure masked much larger gross employment flows, both of jobs created as well as jobs displaced.
Amid the rapid digitisation and automation of banking processes, many global financial institutions have been downsizing and restructuring their operations. The Singapore operations of these global banks have retrenched some staff, mainly in back office functions such as operations, IT and technical support - though the scale of cuts have been much smaller here when compared to that of other markets, said Mr Menon.
He added that most retrenched finance professionals have been able to find alternative employment, either within the financial industry, or in other industries such as information and communication technology.
"But a small number face difficulties finding jobs again, and this is something we are concerned about and working on actively."
As one indicator, the Financial Industry Career Advisory Centre (FiCAC) has worked with more than 1,200 financial professionals since 2016 - when FiCAC was started - to advise on job opportunities, training support, and career coaching. FiCAC is a tripartite collaboration among NTUC, the financial industry, MAS and other government agencies.
MAS will work more through FiCAC in providing fuller advisory services, and in boosting job-matching capabilities, said Mr Menon.
MAS will also work with financial institutions to re-skill workers whose current jobs are under threat, by enrolling them in professional programmes. The Professional Conversion Programmes' website currently just offers compliance jobs as an option for mid-career switchers looking to move into the financial sector.
Mr Menon noted that in some cases, the same financial institution that has laid off workers in one function also has vacancies in other functions. There remains good demand for professionals in areas such as risk management, insurance underwriting, and asset and wealth management, he added.
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