“I’m an Indian banking professional in Singapore. I’m worried about my Employment Pass”

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Fear of failure can be failure in itself

Singapore promises its legions of financial technology professionals a bright future. For each of the next three years, 1,000 tech jobs will be created at large financial institutions and start-ups in the city state, according to a government plan announced last month.

Although banks such as Barclays have offshored some of their, mainly lower-level, tech jobs away from Singapore, many firms are adding tech headcount. DBS alone is hiring 200 developers and engineers in the year to end-May 2018 and is basing most of them in Singapore.

While banks in Singapore employ a diverse mix of local and overseas tech staff, they source their foreign employees predominately from one country: India.

Are Indian techies optimistic about the future of their careers in Singapore? We spoke to two of them to find out. Reyansh Mehta is a Murex developer at OCBC, while Haimi Ganesh (both names are pseudonyms) works as a senior engineer on trading systems at Standard Chartered.

Ganesh believes the job market in his 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.

This trend is likely to gain pace. “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 Ganesh.

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 Employment Pass (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 only applies to jobs paying under S$144k, the Ministry of Manpower has more recently stepped up its scrutiny on broader hiring practices to ensure Singaporeans are well represented within workforces.

“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.

Ganesh, who is a line manager, says it’s also becoming more difficult to recruit new technology staff from India and other 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 Ganesh.

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.

Ganesh would consider a hedge fund or insurance firm, but fintech is his 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:  Tinpixels, Getty

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