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Digitalisation creeping into non-tech roles as Singapore banks accelerate hiring

The sector will continue in a “reform and transform” path, hinging on successful digital banking applicants.

With Singapore’s banking sector expected to ramp up its hiring efforts from the second quarter of 2021, the industry is expected to see a shift in job responsibilities and necessary skills. Most notably, digitalisation is gradually being integrated throughout financial service organisations, even into normally non-tech roles.

Spurred by the pandemic, banks have overhauled their strategies to focus on developing and strengthening their digital capabilities. A Randstad Singapore study noted that as the year progresses, banks will likely only continue to go into a “reform and transform” path, taking into account the success of numerous digital banking licence applicants in 2020.

In line with this, people with expertise in data science, artificial intelligence (AI), and systems architecture will be in high demand, noted Dean Tong, head of group human resources at UOB. He says those who are capable of boosting a bank’s operating performance and system capabilities will be extensively wooed.

Remarking that the hiring acceleration, particularly in technology roles, had been taking place even before the pandemic, he said that the digital shift had also brought new challenges to the forefront. Issues such as cybersecurity are ones that banks will have to quickly mitigate to ensure the resilience of their systems and the sector as a whole.

“Growing consumer expectations for progressive banking solutions are also driving banks to innovate at an even faster pace today, especially as more consumers have become comfortable with transacting and investing online.”

The fast recoveries seen in wealth management, bancassurance, personal banking, as well as insurance, have helped counteract the adverse impacts of risk aversion during the pandemic, Randstad said. In particular, relationship managers have become more adept in providing remote financial advisory services through the use of digital dashboards and data analytics. These are able to provide a holistic overview of clients’ accounts.

“In 2021, we will see a further expansion of digital mobilisation in wealth and bancassurance to capture opportunities that occur throughout the life cycle of customers’ investment and financing needs,” the report explained.

HSBC Singapore head of human resources Brandon Coate echoed this observation, explaining in an interview that they anticipated that those with wealth and consumer banking backgrounds, as well as exposure to digital platforms, will be in high demand in the next three to five years. “This will cut across the front office to support functions like compliance, finance and audit due to supervision by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and also importantly, technology,” he said.

The bank hopes to double its wealth and private banking business in Singapore. Coate highlighted that since 2018, the segment had seen double-digit annualised growth rates in total wealth balances and bigger frontline wealth teams, including both retail and private banking relationship managers and investment specialists.

But even with the influx of digital options available today, UOB still recognises the need of their clients for a human touch, says Tong. 

“We know that for banking services such as wealth advisory or business financing, our customers still prefer to speak with their bankers. As such, we are continually building our team of wealth advisers and relationship managers, especially those who are adept in using data and digital tools to serve our customers better.”

Singapore’s goal of becoming Asia’s wealth management hub will also mean more job opportunities for compliance services within the private banking and fund management segments, Randstad noted.

Within the investment banking segment, there will be more hiring opportunities, even though the IPO and M&A segments have been relatively stifled, Randstad noted. Sectors and firms that are primarily focused on technology, e-commerce, healthcare, and environmentally sustainable financing are poised to accept new talent. 

Skills and job security
2021 looks set to bring more new job opportunities for Singapore, as Asian banks leverage the city as a central hub for expanding their businesses in the region, Randstad said. As such, the demand for relationship managers, support bankers, and credit risk managers is expected to remain high over the second half of the year.

Fintech skills also have significant demand, in areas such as AI and machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), the internet of things (IoT), cybersecurity, application programming interface, and design thinking, Coate noted.

“As you can expect, technology and IT hires will form the backbone of all digital businesses. These roles include cybersecurity, software engineering, DevOps, and data analytics. Corporate functions in traditional banks will also exist in digital banks, with an accentuation on governance, risk and compliance in what we know will be a highly regulated industry,” he explained.

On top of being well-versed in technology, those who possess project management skills and specialised knowledge such as trade finance document checking will attract more interest from hiring managers, the report added. HSBC Singapore also sees demand for applicants with customer acquisition skills, but the focus will be more on “hunting” rather than “farming.” Those that are adept in creative ways to generate revenue will be high in demand, as well as candidates that can tackle issues concerning environmental, social, and governance investing (ESG), Coate said.

For UOB, Tong highlighted that the lender has been expediting its hiring process in areas that are in line with its business strategies: extending its regional connectivity in support of its wholesale banking operations, expanding its omnichannel and digital strategy to ASEAN’s nascent affluent segment, and boosting its regional infrastructure.

But even though the sector has been seeing an influx of jobs being created to fulfil digital gaps brought about by shifting consumer tastes, Tong believes that banking is at its core still a people business and face-to-face interactions will still be highly valued. 

“For example, in the area of financial advisory, our customers have told us that they prefer to have face-to-face conversations as these are more meaningful and enable them to make confident and informed investment decisions.”

Likewise, Coate opined that AI will be a compliment and not a replacement for human employees. According to him, banks should invest in AI as aid to the transactional aspect of the business that lets machine learning and RPA take place. AI should be utilised on more routine- and process-heavy operations and direct resources should be placed on more complex operations that require human personnel, he explained.

Supply-demand mismatches
In May, MAS Managing Director Ravi Menon proclaimed that Singapore’s financial sector would create 6,500 new jobs this year for the financial sector. Six thousand of these are expected to be permanent roles, with the technology and consumer banking segments taking half of the figure.

Technology has become central in financial services and Menon remarked that the sector had utilised technology across a range of various functions. However, he also revealed that there were not enough qualified Singaporeans to fulfil these roles, and as such, foreign talent would be needed to bridge the gap.

Recognising this mismatch, Coate remarked that the sector should strive towards independence and self-reliance, whilst still fueling the external demand. At the same time, that boundary should be extended towards being interdependent, “where there should be a fair exchange of knowledge, skill, and capabilities in the near future,” he said.

For their part, UOB continues to embrace global talent who would want to take part in building the bank’s innovation drive across its international network. On the other hand, it is also nurturing its own people and the next generation of talent through numerous traineeship programmes, Tong explained.

Both banks championed their programmes in educating their workforce, whether in technology or in other areas. With HSBC University, Coate noted as an example, the bank has built a curriculum that will support its version of a digital business through a range of materials covering areas including data, AI, automation, IoT, and cybersecurity.

“HSBC also partakes in the Institute of Banking & Finance’s Professional Conversion Programmes and Technology in Finance Immersion Programme (TFIP) to upskill our employees and support the industry in training more potential employees in the field of technology in finance.”
 
UOB is also a participant in the TFIP, where the bank offers programmes for those looking for a mid-career switch and those with no relevant tech background. “We have hired 35 trainees across two cohorts and are grooming them in the areas of cybersecurity, cloud computing, data analytics, full-stack development and AI,” Tong said.
 
“Concurrently, we remain focused on developing the technical skills and growth mindset of our 26,000-strong global workforce to ensure that they are well-equipped to tap future growth opportunities. One way we are doing so is through our flagship training programme Better U which enables our colleagues across the Group to broaden their soft skills, digital and data skills, and pursue specialised learning tracks in areas such as data analytics and project management.”

Singapore Bank Rankings Table, 2021 (Singapore Business Review/ Asian Banking & Finance)
Singapore Bank Rankings Table, 2021 (Singapore Business Review/ Asian Banking & Finance)

Banner photo courtesy of Peter Nguyen.

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