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Why Singaporean banks are still looking West for talent

UOB, OCBC and DBS continue to hire people from overseas as talent shortages – mainly in technology – sometimes trump the need to prioritise local candidates. Hiring and promotion practices at Singaporean banks have been under the spotlight since yesterday when a UK employment tribunal found that UOB did not racially discriminate against a Caucasian former senior employee who claimed that he was overlooked for a new job because he isn’t Asian.

In a Singapore context, the ruling isn’t surprising. While UOB’s management committee is dominated by Singaporeans (as are its junior ranks), the firm has been hiring and promoting plenty of non-Asians at director level and above. The Singapore government has been tightening its Fair Consideration Framework regulations to encourage employers to take on more local staff, but the law is primarily aimed at junior and mid-level positions. UOB and its rivals are still sometimes hiring from the West when they need new managers, say recruiters.

As we reported last month, for example, UOB recruited Kristina Curtis from BT Financial Group in Australia as an MD and regional head of engagement for digital. Senior technology and digital roles are the sweet spot for overseas hiring at Singaporean banks, say recruiters. Another Australian, Graeme Greenaway, heads up business technology and operations at UOB.

The Singapore government is allowing experienced foreign technologists in specialist roles to relocate to the country as it revamps its education system to boost the local tech workforce over the long term. “Talent is very short everywhere in the world – AI talent, software programmers,” Education Minister Ong Ye Kung told Bloomberg in September. “We let them in because we require a critical mass for the sector to take off, while we continue to train Singaporeans for those jobs.”

Adam Davies, lead IT recruiter at iKas International, told us previously that demand for experienced technologists at Singapore banks “is growing all the time”. “So it’s inevitable that banks and are looking overseas.”

A senior technologists at a local Singaporean bank, speaking off the record, says the team he manages is multicultural and includes many people from Western countries. The surge in demand for tech staff – about a quarter of all vacancies across the three banks are for tech roles – has recently led to more technologists relocating from Eastern European countries such as Poland, he adds.

Overseas recruitment at UOB and the other Singaporean banks isn’t all about technology, however. Stephen Maloney, UOB’s head of cards, relocated from RBS in the UK in November, for example. Senior compliance and risk staff are frequently hired from Europe, Australia and the US. “I don’t think that any Western employee should feel discriminated against. Hiring is based on merits,” says a Singapore-based recruiter with knowledge of UOB.

“UOB is committed to ensuring equal employment opportunities for all employees on the basis of merit, which includes candidates having the relevant skills and experience for the role available,” says a spokesperson for UOB. “The promotion of cultural, ethnic, gender and other forms of diversity is a critical part of the group’s strategy in serving our diverse client base.”

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock

Image credit: primeimages, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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