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Helping sports stars to bring home the bacon

More than 270 sportspersons have found internships and jobs through spexBusiness, a career network for athletes

Softballer William Tanoto Tan says sports generally doesn't pay the bills, so he needed a day job.

Former national canoeist Suzanne Seah joined DBS as a management associate.


SWIMMING icon Joseph Schooling, who is weighing a career in wealth management, was offered internships and mentoring last year by DBS.

Schooling is Singapore's only Olympian gold medallist, but he is not the only athlete here to swop boots or goggles for banking, as a tale of two softballers shows.

Former player William Tanoto Tan, 37, works in consumer banking at DBS, while Ivan Ng, 31, pulls double duty as a relationship manager at United Overseas Bank (UOB) and current national softball team captain.

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Mr Tan, who played for Singapore until 2017, joined DBS in 2006 after completing his studies in civil engineering. He sums up the sentiment in the athletic fraternity here: "Sports generally is not going to pay the bills, so I still needed a day job."

Help is already underway to place Singapore's sportspeople in day jobs.

Two of Singapore's three local lenders, DBS and OCBC, are among some 60 public and private organisations in Sports Excellence Business (spexBusiness) - a career network for athletes, run by government agency Sport Singapore (Sport SG). UOB, which is not a member of the network, also employs active athletes like cricketer Prasheen Param.

Since its launch in 2013, more than 270 athletes have found internships and jobs through spexBusiness, according to Mark Richmond, who heads Team Singapore athlete life at the agency's Singapore Sport Institute, even though he had no data on which industry sectors they go into.

Singapore athletes can also find jobs through other pathways, he added, noting the close ties between local football and auto dealer Komoco Motors, where group managing director Teo Hock Seng, the former Tampines Rovers chairman, is a veteran of the soccer scene.

DBS group head of talent acquisition Susan Cheong told The Business Times: "Athletes have tenacity, grit and the ability to work in a team, and these are qualities that are transferable to many roles in the bank."

DBS does not actively recruit athletes or track their numbers, and there is no training designed specially for them. But Ms Cheong added that "many of our employees learn on the job and during their free time".

For example, former national canoeist Suzanne Seah, who retired from sports before she started working at DBS, has a degree in sports science. But, when she joined as a management associate in 2016, she got to take classes on industry basics while rotating through various roles in the bank.

"As much as possible, we want to provide our staff with the flexibility and resources to achieve their career and personal aspirations," Ms Cheong told BT.

DBS and UOB let employees compete for Singapore without counting the time off towards leave quotas.

"The top concern for us is whether representing Singapore while working at a private organisation will affect your leave, schedule, et cetera," said Mr Ng, who joined UOB in 2013.

He credits his employer with allowing him a flexible "knock-off" time to accommodate his schedule - which can involve three training sessions and two gym workouts a week. He has also roped his colleagues into a recreational softball club, which he started in 2015.

Work may even be a gateway into brief sporting glory, as DBS small and medium-sized enterprise banking executive director Jolynn Wong learnt.

Ms Wong, a self-styled "one-race wonder" who picked up dragonboating at work and has paddled at the bank's annual regatta, went on to make the cut for the national team.

All the same, Mr Tan - who has been playing softball since Secondary 2 - cited the choice between sports priorities and his banking ambitions, in his decision to retire from softball. "I still want to compete," he said, but added: "We lose a lot of sporting talent to the work culture in Singapore."