The most powerful man in Singapore finance reveals threat to booming job market

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If you’re looking for someone to paint you a high-level picture of Singapore’s finance job market, look no further than Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). Menon has just given a speech at the launch of the central bank’s annual report, and he’s made several references to jobs.

Menon described 2018 “jobs numbers” within Singapore financial services (including fintech) as “heartening”, pointing to a net increase of about 6,900 jobs for that year, driven mainly by the banking and insurance industries. From 2016 to 2018, Singapore created an average of ‘only’ 4,900 financial services jobs per year, so 2018 appears to have been a boom year for hiring. But even this three-year average is above the 4,000 net-jobs-growth target that MAS set itself under its Industry Transformation Map.

What of hiring in 2019? Menon didn’t release any figures, but said jobs growth “remains healthy so far” and is on track to meet the 4,000 target. He singled out fintech – which is being “boosted by ongoing digital transformation” – as a growth sector for jobs this year. As we’ve noted in recent months, banks including DBS and UOB are adding hundreds of staff to their Singapore technology teams as they launch new digital products.

Menon also said he expects the payments services sector to “continue to thrive in line with continued expansion of e-commerce activities, both locally and in the region”. As we reported in March, technology companies, including Grab, Razer and Revolut, are increasing their hiring for their payments units this year. Experts in areas such as artificial intelligence, data science, and user interface design are in demand as a result.

It’s not all good news for Singapore finance jobs in 2019, however. “Growth in asset management will be lacklustre, weighed down by falling market valuations and fee compression,” Menon said.

There are dangers on the horizon, too. Sustaining current rates of job growth won’t be easy “in the face of technological change”, Menon said. “As digitalisation and automation become more pervasive in the financial industry, jobs will be transformed. Some will inevitably be displaced,” he added.

Which ones might be axed? Menon didn’t go into this during his speech, but a major report co-published by MAS in April states that 40 of 121 job functions in Singapore’s finance sector are at “high risk” of being displaced by technology over the next three to five years. While many of these are relatively low-level roles in retail banking and insurance, the list does include more skilled professionals such as traders, corporate bankers and product controllers.

MAS’s answer to the automation threat is to step up its efforts to “upskill the workforce”, Menon said. Last year, more than 20,000 people – about one out of eight employees across the sector – went through upskilling programmes supported by MAS and the Institute of Banking and Finance. Meanwhile, 19 financial institutions in Singapore have committed to retrain close to 4,000 finance professionals and redeploy them in new or expanded roles over the next two years.

What does all this upskilling involve? Menon’s speech didn’t provide details, but much of it has recently focused (predictably enough) on digital and tech training. Last month, for example, DBS retrained more than 500 contact-centre employees into 13 new job sectors (including digital evangelists and scrum masters) as part of its “digital transformation”.

Image credit: TkKurikawa, Getty

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