If there’s one thing that keeps Dr Dennis Khoo up at night, it’s talent, not technology. As the head of digital banking at UOB, Khoo has launched a new hiring drive at the bank just as the tech job market in Singapore tightens up.
“It’s my number one challenge: do I have the right people to keep pace in a sector as fast-moving as digital banking?” says Khoo. “Business environments can change quickly, so the skills needed in the recent past aren’t necessarily the ones which are needed now or for the future. If I don’t continue to upgrade the skills in my team, it can threaten the quality of our projects,” he adds.
Of all Khoo’s current projects, one stands out: he is leading UOB’s efforts to roll out TMRW, a new digital bank for mobile-only customers. The bank, which targets Millennials, went online in Thailand earlier this month and will be launched in other ASEAN countries over the next few months. It employs about 120 people and is taking on 60 additional staff in the year to October. About a quarter of them will join a new ‘engagement lab’ in Singapore (which partners with fintech firms), while others will work in roles such as user experience and user interface design, behavioural science, data analytics, and design thinking.
In the current tight labour market in Singapore, however, UOB – like all banks – isn’t finding it straightforward to recruit for digital jobs. “We’ve already hired into the digital bank, but we’re also looking to fill specialist roles,” says Khoo. “It’s a competitive market and we’re taking our time to find the right people. Singapore doesn’t have a huge pool of software engineers, and skill shortages are much larger than 10 years ago.”
Still, Khoo says he’s casting a wide net in his search for staff – a banking background isn’t always needed. “I look at your skills more than what industry you’re from. While I might hire a business analyst from a bank, a data scientist could come from another sector,” he adds. “The team uses tech such as chat bots and machine learning, but we don’t come at things from a tech perspective initially – we see the customer need, devise a business case, and then apply the relevant tech solutions.”
UOB’s digital bank is also taking on some non-coding staff, but you’ll still need a good grasp of tech to land a role there, says Khoo, who hasn’t worked as a programmer himself but does have an electrical engineering degree. “If you don’t understand coding at all, that’s a problem. You need to know the basics of how our technology is written. Almost all banking projects are now software projects, especially in digital banking,” he adds.
Aside from recruitment, Khoo says his other main challenge is balancing the local and regional responsibilities of his role. “Payments systems have traditionally been local – each market we operate in has its own norms and its own regulations. But when building an ASEAN digital bank, we now need to develop common code across the region,” says Khoo. “It’s my job to support each market within a regional framework.”
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