Singapore banks' innovation labs struggle to retain talent

Their tasks may be clashing with the banks’ in-house tech teams.

Technologists working at the innovation labs of Singapore banks may find that spurring innovation and disrupting old ways of doing in the heavily regulated industry may be beyond their capacity, according to an article from London-based efinancialcareers. 

Hiring has been quietly growing for the over 20 dedicated spaces for innovation that have been set up in Singapore over the past two years, according to data from the Economic Development Board, although the total may be closer to 40. Finance heavyweights have played a critical role in the proliferation of such spaces such as those from Singapore’s big three banks, insurers like AXA and Metlife; and payment companies like Mastercard, PayPal and Visa which have all chosen to set up innovation labs in the Lion City in recognition of its robust infrastructure, multi-disciplinary talent pool and business-friendly climate.

DBS Asia X Lab in Fusionopolis is one such example where technologists are given the chance to experiment and nurture ideas that could add value to the parent company. In November 2018, three global banks - Bank of China, Deutsche Bank and Westpac - unveiled their innovation labs during the Singapore Fintech Festival.

Also read: Chinese banks shun in-house tech as they turn to Alibaba and Tencent for help

Despite the proliferation of such spaces where data scientists and engineers have free reign, technologists in Singapore may be finding it hard to reconcile their disruptive ideas with the bureaucratic nature of the banking industry. Although banks have the formidable capability to scale processes and products that are already working, introducing new methods and agile products may not necessarily be in their DNA.

Moreover, developers are not usually tasked to develop business critical segments as banks are more likely to entrust the job to their in-house tech teams. The report cites DBS AI-powered tool for candidate screening which was developed via its lab.

“A lot of partnerships between banks and fintechs are for consumer research and marketing campaigns,” says the ex-programmer told the media outfit. “But for, say, a trading platform, banks will typically still do this with their veteran in-house developer teams. The virtual bank that Stan Chart is building in Hong Kong isn’t being developed via its innovation lab.”

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