The fintech sector is growing in Singapore – and the government wants it to get even bigger. But experts warn that the supply of candidates isn’t currently enough to meet start-ups’ demand for talent.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore – whose 15-member Technology Advisory Panel includes former Citigroup head Vikram Pandit – is pushing Singapore to stake its claim as a fintech hub. MAS is reviewing, for example, the regulatory requirements placed on fintech venture capitalists in order to encourage more of them to set up in Singapore.
Meanwhile, speaking at an industry forum early this month, Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said the Republic should aim to be a global leader in fintech and develop a strong cross-disciplinary talent pool.
Building Singapore’s fintech workforce isn’t straightforward, however.
“While there are plenty of folks in Singapore who are potentially capable of driving fintech innovation, I still don’t see enough incentives for them to leave their existing roles at banks and join a start-up,” says former Barclays banker Aditya Haripurkar, now director of Ezy Payzy, a Singapore fintech firm.
“When I was trying to hire a team for my payments start-up recently the banking technologists I approached were hesitant to get involved because of the ‘security’ of their banking job, or because they were too inundated with work in their existing roles,” adds Haripurkar.
Despite firms such as Citi, DBS, OCBC and UBS setting up fintech ‘innovation labs’ in Singapore, Haripurkar says the banks aren’t helping to solve the fintech skill shortage.
“Innovation centres aren’t necessarily primed to drive innovation as the people heading them typically don’t have a start-up, product-building, hustling background. And there’s a self-interest in not developing fintech talent who might eventually leave the banks.”
Sought-after skills in Singapore fintech
Singapore fintech firms are clamouring not just for coders but for talent across a number of functions.
“The main jobs driving the Singapore fintech sector are software developers, data engineers, and other technology-related roles because they initially create the products,” says former HSBC investment banker Cynthia Siantar, co-founder of Singapore fintech company Call Levels.
There’s also a “surge in demand” for user experience (UX) roles, says Siantar. “That’s because start-ups in Singapore are leading the way in turning customers’ needs into products in a more agile timeframe. Marketing, business development and customer servicing roles are becoming important too.”
Fintech firms also need more staff with security, compliance and legal experience, says Markus Gnirck, co-founder of Singapore fintech investor firm TRBY.
Haripurkar says start-ups are increasingly looking to find people who have both technical skills and “domain experience” in the sectors they specialise in, such as payments, wealth, asset management and insurance.
“There’s also a talent shortage of product managers, partnership managers, and growth and strategy experts,” says Haripurkar. “But having these skill sets is one thing, being able to thrive in a start-up environment is equally important.”
Solving the fintech skills shortage
Financial IT jobs – both at start-ups and large banks – are becoming more “advanced” and “niche” in Singapore as many low-end roles are offshored to less costly Asian markets, says Sam Randall, a senior manager in financial services technology at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore.
Randall says Singapore fintech firms will therefore need to hire some of their specialised staff from overseas markets.
“Singapore requires foreign fintech professionals in order to compete with other big global cities, but their knowledge must also be used to help train local talent through university courses, internships and vocational training.”
Haripurkar from Ezy Payzy agrees. “Singapore as a Fintech centre should be opening up opportunities for bankers and finance professionals from overseas. I think with Brexit we’ll soon see an influx of London Fintech talent."
But importing more candidates isn’t the only solution. Last week MAS managing director Ravi Menon said he wanted more Singaporeans to take fintech roles as the sector expands.
“We want to maximise the number of Singaporeans able to take the good jobs that are going to be created...That means intervening upstream, working with polytechnics and universities to make sure we have a strong talent pipeline,” Menon said.
MAS has launched its own fintech innovation lab to allow later-stage companies to test their ideas and work with third parties such as lawyers and banking regulators.
Haripurkar suggests that the regulator could also mandate that banks constantly develop “fintech innovation skills” in their workforces and that banks could fund internships for young people to work at start-ups. Fintech should also play a more prominent part in Masters and Bachelors of Finance curriculums, he adds.
Fintech entrepreneurs say they welcome the government taking a stronger leadership role in the sector.
Gnirck from TRBY says it’s not always obvious where Singapore fintech firms should look for candidates.
“The different talent pools in Singapore – from universities and research centres to start-up spaces and government agencies – now need to be better connected. The full potential of fintech in Singapore can only be unlocked if it’s given the right direction and the different talent silos are connected across the sector.”
Image credit: Geber86, Getty