Students at Singaporean universities often have “no clue” about banking technology jobs, and this lack of awareness is exacerbating wider tech talent shortages in the finance sector, according to recruiters from several banks in the Republic.
“When I visit local campuses and ask STEM students if they’ve thought of joining a bank after they graduate, most of them look at me blankly,” a senior recruiter from a large bank in Singapore told a discussion forum for in-house banking recruiters organised by eFinancialCareers last week. “Their attitude is ‘I don’t even know why I’m talking to you’. Working for a bank has just never occurred to them.”
A recruiter from a rival bank, who like her counterparts at the event asked not to be named in this report, said she’s had similar experiences on campus. “My firm recently did a focus group with STEM students and we found that they had no clue about what banks have to offer within technology,” she added. “They’re fixated with the belief that if you have a science degree, you need to join a Microsoft or a Google. Banks need to change this mindset.”
The first recruiter said his firm is now educating students that “banks are all about technology”, adding that about 50% of his current vacancies are in tech, including both programming jobs and non-coding roles (such as project management and data science). “The problem is that students don’t know about the innovative things that banks now do with technology, so they’re not attracted to banking jobs.”
Young people in Singapore are also “put off by the perceived hierarchical structures at banks”, another banking recruiter told the discussion forum. “And they’re right – banks do have more management layers than large tech firms and startups,” she said. “But we can counter that by showing how banking is a good place to build your tech skills at the start of your career. As a large bank, our tech budget and training resources are huge, so you can learn more as a junior with us than you can at a startup.”
The need to hire more graduates into banking technology roles is growing more urgent, according to the recruiters at the event. Driven by digital transformation projects, most global and local banks have been trying to increase their tech headcounts at all levels in Singapore over the past year, with demand for talent often outstripping supply.
“The recent growth of our tech unit is crazy, but it still isn’t being resourced quickly enough to support the digital transformation objectives of the business,” said the representative from the first bank. International and local banks in Singapore typically have in-house teams specifically tasked with sourcing tech staff. “With so much tech hiring going on, we don’t have enough in-house recruitment people either. There’s a lot of pressure placed on HR,” he added.
New niche jobs
Recruitment is challenging not just because volumes are increasing, but also because the tech vacancies on offer at banks in Singapore typically now demand more specialist, hard-to-find skills than they did just two or three years ago. Banks in the city state, in particular US and European firms, have offshored some of their back-office and legacy-system tech roles (such as application support) to India and other lower-cost markets, and are now focused on growing front-office functions based on more cutting-edge tech.
“We only have small pockets of business-as-usual support roles. This year, most of our hiring is forward looking and involves new technology,” said the recruiter from the first bank. “For example, we’re building a robotic process automation [RPA] skill set within the bank. And when we create a new platform, it’s open sourced – we don’t build it using legacy methods.”
The delegate from the third bank said her firm is also recruiting for RPA roles, especially those focused on blockchain payments. “And like most banks, we’re hiring in data. We don’t just want data scientists, we want data analysts, who can interpret data and provide a big-picture analysis for the business,” she added. “All our business units are telling us to find data scientists who they can embed into their teams,” another banking recruiter told the eFinancialCareers forum.
Banks in Singapore can no longer find all the talent they need by poaching technologist from each other or even by recruiting from overseas. “Because of this recent change in the tech we’re using, we’re finding that the talent pool within banking is smaller than it previously was, so we’re open to hiring candidates who have the basic programming skills and can be trained,” said the first recruiter.
The banks’ representatives said that a small but expanding proportion – about 20% – of their new tech hires now come from tech companies and other non-finance firms. “The likes of Google and Alibaba have good compensation, benefits, workplace cultures and career progression, so we need to offer attractive jobs for their people to consider joining us,” said the recruiter from the third bank. “Our branding as a digital bank is strong but hiring still isn’t easy. There has to be something special about our technology and what it will do for their skills and future career to make them move. We can’t just offer them more money.”
Some banks in Singapore are trying to revamp their workplaces in an extra effort to attract people from tech firms. One recruiter said her firm has introduced a different dress code for its tech employees. “Jeans are fine and one very senior guy here likes to go to work in Bermuda shorts.”
“But there’s a limit to how far we can go,” the recruiter from the second bank told the forum. “Some technologists we interview ask to work at home almost every day and we just can’t offer them that. We usually need them to be on site, where are systems are.”
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