Patrick Tay: Turning Bright Spots to a Shining Light

This post is a contribution by NTUC Assistant Secretary-General, Patrick Tay. The article first appeared in the Banking and Financial Services Union’s 55th Anniversary Magazine. Any extracts should be attributed back to the author. 1 November 2019.

Sisters and Brothers, the economic outlook for the next year looks uncertain.

Back in August this year, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced that the GDP growth forecast for 2019 has been downgraded to 0–1 per cent. It was previously forecasted to grow by 1.5–3.5 per cent at the beginning of 2019.

The economy will certainly continue to face headwinds this quarter and perhaps even beyond, given the global economic backdrop.

As our tripartite partner, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Managing Director Ravi Menon had predicted, the US-China trade war has affected global manufacturing, trade and investments.

Singapore has felt the pinch of this trade war as well. Investments have slowed given the uncertainty. This puts our trade financing and operations in a short-term “limbo”.

Thankfully, we have not seen a huge spike in retrenchment numbers this year.

However, if we look at the retrenchment numbers quarter-for-quarter in the last four years, the service sector, especially in the financial services sector, contributed to a considerable number of total retrenchments.

The latest Labour Market Report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed that 72 per cent of retrenchments in the second quarter were from the services sector. About 17 per cent of this came from financial services.

Retrenchments were mostly attributed to the restructuring and reorganisation of foreign banks. There will still be pockets of layoffs, although the numbers are expected to be small.

But make no mistake about it. Although there won’t be severe job losses, there will undoubtedly be serious transformation.

There Are Still Very Bright Spots

Not all is doom and gloom. According to MAS, the modern services cluster, which includes financial, ICT and professional services, will be the main sectors that will help the economy avoid a major recession.  On the ground, we are also seeing this observation bearing truth and fruit.

The demand for and the investments in these services are gradually increasing as the sector undergoes transformation.

We formed the Financial Sector Tripartite Committee (FSTC) on 17 February 2016 for the tripartite and industry stakeholders in the sector to collectively map the way forward for the sector in the area of manpower, jobs, and skills.  When it was launched in 2017, the Industry Transformation Map (ITM) for the Financial Services had set a target to annually create 4,000 jobs in financial services and FinTech.

According to the latest figure by MAS, there was an average of 4,900 financial services and FinTech jobs created annually from 2016 to 2018, which is above the target of 4,000.

It also seems that we are on track to meet the 4,000 target again this year. In the same vein, with the five digital banks starting operations on 1 July next year, we are hopeful that even more jobs will be created.

Take Advantage of Opportunities

Therefore, there is a need to pick up new skills if workers want to stay relevant and take advantage of these new opportunities.

The banking and finance sector is being disrupted faster than others. Today, we see an increase in the use of automation, chatbots, Robo-advisors, and artificial intelligence.

An IBF-MAS study released in April this year stated that data analytics and automation are likely to augment or transform 121 job roles in Singapore’s financial sector over the next three to five years. With this study, we now know the key areas of focus.

Separately, 94 per cent of FinTech firms stated that they are experiencing a shortage of manpower in FinTech, according to a survey done in September 2019 by recruitment services firm Michael Page.

The supply of jobs is there, but we need workers with skills that can match with these jobs.

Tripartite Effort

There are many avenues for workers to get career advice and be matched to jobs. ​

Tripartite partners, powered by IBF (The Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore), launched the IBF Careers Connect in August 2018. The one-stop centre provides career advisory and job matching services to individuals in the financial industry.  This dedicated facility was given birth after the successful Financial Industry Career Advisory Centre (FiCAC) pilot powered by the labour movement with our tripartite partners in April 2016.

NTUC LearningHub is also playing a key role in helping to change the mindsets of workers to prepare them for the future industry. It’s already working with our local banks to drive training and mindset change.

Additionally, with the new Skills Framework for Financial Services announced by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on 27 September this year, and the recent memorandum of understanding inked by the Singapore Insurance Employees Union with 23 companies to set up training committees, we are hopeful that the financial services sector is now ahead of the curve when it comes to future-proofing workers.

BFSU Plays a Role

This year has been significant for the union. It was the year we transformed The Singapore Bank Officers’ Association (SBOA) to what we are today, the Banking and Financial Services Union (BFSU).

Just as workers need to keep up with the times, the union will continue to innovate and stay relevant as well so that it can better serve workers in the industry and help them navigate the changing work environment.

BFSU has now under our wings, not only bank officers but also many more different categories of PMEs in the banking sector.

The union will not stop at this and will continue to move into new spaces. The increasing dominance of FinTech has already seen BFSU partner key players such as the Singapore FinTech Association.

BFSU is also glad to receive new union recognition from three FinTech companies.

As a union, BFSU will continue to partner organisations and build an ecosystem to drive training and upgrading. It will continue to work to become industry workers’ one-stop pit-stop for Protection, Progression, Placement, and Privileges. Workers need to know that BFSU is there for them.

If the Government, employers, and BFSU continue to work together to navigate this uncertainty, we will have a good chance of turning the bright spots in our transforming industry into a shining light of Singapore’s economy.

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