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Banks are poaching from Singapore polys, but only for the back office

How to get a banking job in Singapore without a university degree

It's a...diploma

Are you looking for a banking job in Singapore? Are you not academically inclined or perhaps you want a faster route into the industry?

Doing a polytechnic diploma instead of a university degree may be the solution. But despite recent efforts to encourage more poly grads in Singapore to join banks, your career choices will be largely limited to the more mundane sides of the sector: retail banking, operations, compliance and IT, according to new data from eFinancialCareers. Getting into investment banking is altogether more difficult.

We’ve trawled through our CV database for Singapore-based financial professionals who also studied in the city state. We then split them into two groups: those who attended one of Singapore’s five key polytechnics (Nanyang, Ngee Ann, Republic, Singapore and Temasek) and those who went to a mainstream local university: National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University and the Singapore Institute of Management. And we did this polytechnic-versus-university comparison across 10 key parts of the banking sector to produce the chart below.

Last month the Monetary Authority of Singapore beefed up its “SkillsFuture” programme that helps polytechnic graduates get jobs in financial services – and large banks have since committed to providing at least 200 places for poly grads in the coming year through this scheme.

But what type of jobs will poly diploma-holders be going into? Our figures suggest that retail banking, operations, compliance and IT are among the most likely destinations – between 34.6% and 44.6% of people who studied locally in these sectors attended one of Singapore’s five main polytechnics.

Recent graduate initiatives by banks in Singapore are in similar areas: OCBC’s polytechnic trainee scheme is for retail bank officers, DBS’s focuses on consumer banking operations and J.P.Morgan’s new one-year apprenticeship concentrates on operations and technology. “We’re seeing this too as recruiters – banks are now becoming more open to polytechnic diploma holders, but mainly in the back-office and IT,” says Gary Lai, Southeast Asia managing director of recruitment firm Charterhouse Partnership.

Poly grads are also making inroads into corporate banking and wealth management – about a third of local graduates in those sectors in Singapore have a poly diploma, according to the eFinancialCareers data. Most are in relationship manager (RM) roles, although in wealth management they predominate in priority banking, serving less affluent clients than their private-banking counterparts, say recruiters. “Some move straight into a branch RM job, while others are initially hired for credit-analysis work but have an extrovert personality and eventually become RMs,” says Lai.

It’s in capital markets (only 18% of those who studied in Singapore went to a poly) and M&A (20.2%) where a university degree really comes out trumps. Recruiters do not expect these percentages to rise in the future. “Let’s face it, investment banks want good degrees – and poly diploma holders in IBD have mainly all gone on to do MBAs overseas, for example,” says a Singapore headhunter who asked not to be named.

Outside of investment banking the percentage of poly grads in Singaporean banking is likely to creep up as the government and the banks use them to tackle the country’s skills shortages and reduce its reliance on foreign talent. About half of the banking resumes received by Robert Walters in Singapore include qualifications from local polytechnics, says Orelia Chan, the recruitment firm’s manager of financial services and compliance.


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