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“I’m a foreign technologist at a bank in Singapore. I’m worried about my Employment Pass”

Singapore promises its legions of technology professionals a bright future. Under plans announced last month, a new Singapore government unit will help the private sector create 10,000 new technology-related jobs over the next three years. In the banking sector, technology hiring is booming. JP Morgan, for example, uses Singapore as a hub for emerging tech such as blockchain, AI and robotics, while Citi is building a new FX pricing engine in the Republic this year. In terms of numbers, Singaporean banks are leading the way. More than a third of the 1,233 people that DBS added to its headcount in the year to end-March work in technology.

But it’s not all good news. Many of the technologists working in Singapore come from overseas and some of them are expressing concerns about their careers, especially when it comes to renewing their Employment Passes (EPs). We spoke to two foreign tech professionals to find out what’s on their minds. Reyansh Mehta is a Murex developer at OCBC, while Meg Ashworth (both names are pseudonyms) works as a senior engineer on trading systems at Standard Chartered.

Ashworth believes the job market in her field is getting “tighter” in Singapore. “There are fewer job opportunities for people with my skill set at banks, because banks are moving away from in-house product development to partnering with fintech companies,” she says. “In coming years, banks in Singapore will focus even more on growing their fintech partnerships so they can quickly adapt to customer needs and reduce their in-house operations costs,” says Ashworth.

Mehta says his Murex skills remain in demand, but that finding his next job “won’t be easy” because he is not a permanent resident (PR) in Singapore and will need to reapply for an EP, an employer-sponsored temporary work permit. Banks have been prioritising hiring Singaporeans and PRs since the Fair Consideration Framework introduced an obligation to advertise jobs to locals before foreigners. Although the law dates from 2014 and applies to jobs paying under S$15k a month (S$180k year), the Ministry of Manpower has more recently stepped up its scrutiny on broader hiring practices to ensure Singaporeans are well represented within workforces.

Moreover, even fairly senior technology jobs in Singapore pay under the regulation’s minimum threshold. At VP level, only cloud engineers earn S$180k a year, according to our salary table for banking tech jobs, which was compiled from 2019 recruiter salary surveys.

“The drive to hire more locals is a major concern for people like me who are here on EPs. I’ve often seen banks hire local IT candidates even if they’re not on par with the job requirements,” says Mehta. “While my most recent EP was obviously approved, the next approval – when I change companies – is my biggest worry.”

Many of the developer jobs currently on offer in Singapore are fixed-term contracts, which means candidates holding employment passes must apply for new ones at least every 12 months, if their next contract is at a new bank, says Mehta.

Ashworth, who is a line manager, says it’s also becoming more difficult to recruit new technology staff from overseas countries, which is exacerbating talent shortages.

Despite problems in the job market, however, both technologists say the work they are doing is getting increasingly interesting. “The past few years has been a great time to be in the Singapore banking industry as it takes on new technologies in areas like big data, business intelligence, artificial intelligence, and machine learning,” says Ashworth.

Still, the two technologists ultimately want to stop working for large banks. “I’d like to join a fintech company, financial software vendor or trading firm in Singapore,” says Mehta.

Ashworth would consider a hedge fund or insurance firm, but fintech is her preferred next destination.  “Fintech companies are growing rapidly in Singapore and are the early users of new technologies,” she says. “There’s a lot of red tape in banks. Even though they’re using new technology, getting approval for it isn’t that easy.”

Image credit: vgajic, Getty

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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