“I recruit for banks in Singapore: I’m rejecting 90% of overseas applicants”

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“I recruit for banks in Singapore: I’m rejecting 90% of overseas applicants”

As we all know, the Singapore government is trying to encourage employers – including large banks – to hire more Singaporean citizens (and permanent residents). It’s been an ongoing effort since 2014, when the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) introduced rules requiring firms to initially advertise vacancies to locals on a state-run job board. The government is also (correctly, in my opinion) monitoring companies who have disproportionately low numbers of Singaporeans in their ranks.

This ‘localisation’ drive is generally a good idea because it helps remove any previous biases in favour of expats, giving talented Singaporeans opportunities they might not previously have received. It also appears to be working well in many parts of the economy and in many job functions within financial services.

However, in the main sector that I focus on as a headhunter – front-office investment banking – I think there are downsides, particularly at a junior level. Let me explain…

Young Singaporeans aren’t as keen on becoming bankers as they were before the global financial crisis – the job has lost a lot of its shine. Moreover, most of the current cohort of front-office juniors in Singapore are keen to try something different after just two to four years of investment banking. I should know, I speak to these people on a regular basis.

Over the past few years I’ve seen much higher rates of junior departures from the leading investment banks here – and some of these young Singaporeans have left banking for good. This would obviously be a problem for banks under any circumstances. But these days replacing young local bankers in Singapore is a lot more difficult because our access to the global junior talent pool is severely limited.

The news that Singapore now has more working-visa restrictions in place under the FCF (and that these restrictions mainly target junior jobs, paying under S$15k a month) has filtered through to people in other financial centres. As a result, the number of overseas-based analyst and associate-level bankers searching for roles in Singapore has reduced significantly over the past few years.

Cities like New York and London are much larger investment banking hubs than Singapore – with far more front-office opportunities – so juniors from these locations always need incentives, not disincentives, to move here.

What happens to the few applications I still receive from overseas-based junior investment bankers? Unfortunately, I now have to turn them down 90% of the time, because banks just aren’t interested in them.

As recently as two years ago, banks would still interview young foreign candidates, only to then discover how hard it was to secure Employment Passes (EPs) for them. Now banks have stopped even bothering to interview foreigners for investment-banking jobs, let alone apply for EPs for them.

As a result of all this (young Singaporeans losing interest in IB, higher junior turnover at banks, and a lack of 20-something foreign talent), I’m seeing more analyst and associate positions remaining unfulfilled at banks for longer periods of time. It’s a tricky job market.

Archie Ho (not his real name) is a recruiter in Singapore.

Image credit: BreatheFitness, Getty

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