The viral video of JP Morgan employee Ramesh Erramalli verbally abusing a condo security guard is helping to give bankers a “bad name” in Singapore.
Erramalli’s outburst – he shouted and swore at the guard during a dispute over a $10 parking charge – has triggered an online petition (with more than 35,000 signatures so far) calling on JP Morgan to fire him. Erramalli has since apologised in person to the guard.
Although some of the outrage has focused on the fact that Erramalli is foreign (he is originally from India), the case has also reinforced perceptions that wealthy bank employees are arrogant, elitist and out of touch with ordinary Singaporeans, say banking professionals we spoke with in Singapore. “The video and the intense reaction to it are giving us a bad name,” bemoans one banker.
Online reaction to the incident has shined a spotlight on class divides in Singapore, especially as white-collar Erramalli’s tirade featured a boast about his condo being worth S$1.5m – a price that is out of reach of most working-class Singaporeans such as the security guard. The Erramalli case has put banking professionals front and centre of this divide.
Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam called the video an example of “modern-day bigotry” and of people having a “sense of entitlement”, but warned against “harassing” Erramalli because the police are handling a complaint made by guard.
Class and entitlement issues are not new to the Singapore banking sector. “I think similar cases to this involving professionals from banks and other well-paid sectors probably happen almost every day,” says another Singaporean banker. Erramalli’s outburst, however awful, just happened to be caught on camera. “This video is like an old wound reopened,” says the banker, adding that the extent of the online outrage against Erramalli (his academic qualifications have been questioned, for example) is also “troubling”.
Singapore’s class structures may not be as deeply embedded as those in Europe, but people from more privileged family backgrounds – locals and expats alike – are still overrepresented in the finance sector. Rich young Singaporeans can get jobs at banks more easily because of family connections and the “glamorous, upper-class vibe” they take into interviews, junior bankers told us previously.
While wealthy banking professionals in Singapore are unlikely to kick their extravagant spending habits (think Porsches and Patek Phillippes) anytime soon, the Erramalli case is a warning that what they do and say outside of work can have consequences for their careers, reputations and for the public perception of the finance sector as elitist. The second Singapore banking professional says that social media has made it even more critical for bankers to be “mindful of their actions” away from the office.
Last year a DBS employee sparked a public outcry after posting an image of a ripped Singapore flag on Facebook. Within weeks, DBS said he was “no longer with the bank”.
Erramalli, whose job at JP Morgan is unclear, does not appear to have left the bank. A JP Morgan spokesperson says the firm is continuing to “look into the matter” and has no further comment at this stage. An internal note earlier this week, which was signed by JPM’s Singapore senior country officer Edmund Lee and reported in local media, did not refer directly to the Erramalli incident but reminded staff that they are “expected to demonstrate the highest standards, including respect and dignity for others, in our behaviour and actions inside and outside of the workplace”.
Image credit: Mike Enerio, Unsplash
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