Morning Coffee: Why you owe your banking job to Lee Kuan Yew

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Banking jobs in Singapore

It's because of Lee

If you’re a finance professional in Singapore, it’s worth remembering that, ultimately, you owe your job to Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, who died yesterday, led his country for more than 30 years before stepping down in 1990 – and his government transformed the nation from a financial backwater to an emerging global financial centre. No Lee, no Singapore as a magnet for thousands of banking and finance jobs.

It was Lee, for example, who pushed for the creation of an offshore Asian dollar market in Singapore, one of the key early steps in broadening the country’s financial markets. His regime saw the birth of the sovereign wealth funds Temasek (in 1974) and GIC (in 1981) and the growth of DBS, OCBC and UOB into profitable banks with a regional reach.

His liberal approach to foreign investment in Singapore also attracted scores of international banks to set up shop and provide job opportunities in Singapore – 200 banks now operate there. Rising levels of private and corporate wealth in Singapore under Lee’s regime eventually led to the city state becoming a hub for wealth management and asset management.

Lee’s government helped young Singaporeans to study and work overseas so they could return to build their country’s finance sector with a better knowledge of global markets. And in encouraging skilled immigration, Lee helped to bring elite financial talent from across the world into his tiny island – people who might previously have only considered jobs in London or New York.

While Lee oversaw the growth of the finance sector in Singapore, he also helped ensure its stability with the creation of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s regulator and central bank, in 1971. “Stability” – whether financial or political – is still used to explain why banks choose to expand in the Republic or why bankers want to work there. They largely have Lee to thank for their success in Singapore.


OCBC wants to expand in China. (South China Morning Post)

Rothschild appoints a new boss of Southeast Asia oil and gas. (Finance Asia)

Standard Chartered bank holds global board meeting in New Delhi. (Economic Times)

SGX to begin market-making operations on electricity futures in April. (Straits Times)

Singapore bond issuers turn to private deals. (Straits Times)

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