Forget spending your internship making coffee and proofreading pitch books. This year, three of the largest banks in Singapore – Standard Chartered, DBS and OCBC – are hiring students into technology and innovation-focused internships that allow them to tackle real business challenges.
DBS took on 24 penultimate-year students into its UNI.CORN internship this month. Over the next 12 weeks they will conceptualise, test and develop prototypes to address “problems” faced by the firm.
Similarly, 26 students have just joined OCBC’s six-month-long FRANKpreneurship scheme. Using cloud-based applications from Google and Adobe, they will also try to find innovation solutions to tasks assigned to them by the bank.
Stan Chart, meanwhile, announced earlier in May that it is teaming up with NUS to offer new internships to “promising students” enrolled in the university’s Information Systems and Business Analytics degrees.
While these initiatives may provide students with a more enjoyable intern experience, they are also designed to address a serious shortage of candidates for graduate-level technology and digital-banking jobs in Singapore.
“We don’t have enough technology graduates in Singapore – banks should have been doing this earlier,” says Samantha Ding, associate director of technology at Kerry Consulting. “But these internships are focused on innovation and digital transformation, where there’s a growing need for talent, so it’s good that banks now have concrete plans to groom graduates.”
As in other markets, banks in Singapore are increasingly competing with technology firms for graduate talent. “Younger people who consider themselves pure technologists still prefer to work for tech companies rather than banks,” says Vince Natteri, director of search firm Pinpoint Asia.
Natteri believes, however, that the “threat from fintech firms” is motivating the banks to offer innovation-focused internships.
“Younger technologists are more attracted to start-ups now than in the recent past because they think the environment will suit them better – banks are the places where older people work,” says Natteri. “But by having innovation-focused internships, banks are speaking directly to a younger audience. Packaging them into their normal summer internship programme wouldn’t have the same appeal.”
“The duration of the internships enables teams to go through several iterations of their tech-enabled business solutions, in the same way that a lean start-up would innovate,” adds Jon Scheele, a former senior manager of research and innovation at ANZ in Singapore, who now runs a fintech consultancy.
The DBS and OCBC internships culminate in students demonstrating their prototypes to senior managers, in a similar fashion to a fintech start-up trying to pitch its products to a bank.
Banks in Singapore are also trying to encourage students from across disciplines to move into various jobs in digital banking, not all of which require coding skills. The DBS and OCBC initiatives are therefore open to people who aren’t studying computer science.
“This is to help address the multi-disciplinary nature of today's business challenges in banking, and to adopt agile ways of working,” says Scheele. “Banks recognise that the skunkworks model – a separate innovation unit independent from the rest of the firm – has its limitations. The emphasis is now more on interdependence with other departments to encourage collaboration across the bank.”
But will these internships actually increase the talent pool when banks come to recruit graduates?
“This is a long-term play, not an immediate solution,” says Ding from Kerry. “But special care has been put into their design to make them attractive and encourage people to apply back for full-time positions. I believe they will ultimately bring tremendous benefits as they show a commitment to innovation.”
“Once banks can combine their image of being stable tech employers with the excitement of a start-up environment, they should become more appealing to young people. The main problem with fintech firms is that they’re considered unstable and risky. Banks need to use this to their advantage,” says Natteri from Pinpoint Asia.
The internships are at least already proving popular with students. DBS and OCBC received about 1,000 and 500 applications respectively for their 2017 intakes.
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