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Banks in Singapore are suffering as Malaysians become harder to hire.

“Double whammy”: skill shortages worsen as fewer Malaysians find jobs at Singapore banks

Skill shortages in Singapore banking have been exacerbated by a decline in the number of Malaysian finance professionals coming into the Republic during the pandemic.

Covid travel and work visa restrictions in Singapore are affecting immigration from all countries. However, Malaysians (along with citizens from a handful of other nations, including India) are well represented in the banking sector, so a substantial and traditional source of talent has been cut back, at least in the short to medium term.

“Given the language similarities and physical proximity between Malaysia and Singapore, the number of Malaysians who have relocated for work has historically been quite high,” says former Standard Chartered banker Ivan Tang, now CEO of Tangspac Consulting. “There’s definitely an impact on the Malaysia talent pool during Covid,” he adds.

“Malaysians tend to fit well into Singaporean culture and are readily accepted here. But it’s harder to get government approval for their relocation these days – HR at banks must do more work to get the green light for them,” says a senior banker at a Malaysian bank in Singapore, adding that relocations have declined at his firm over the past 15 months but have not ground to a halt. “More opportunities are being given to Singaporeans these days. Most headhunters will now check my citizenship before showing me a job,” he adds.

Malaysians tend to take on middle management positions in the Singapore finance sector, says Gary Lai, managing director for Asia at Charterhouse Partnership. They’re usually hired from the Kuala Lumpur offices of foreign banks, and are spread across technology, front-office, middle office, and operations roles, says Lai. “Malaysians can typically just slot into Singapore and assimilate, including into client-facing jobs. There are some exceptions, such as senior compliance positions that demand in-depth knowledge of local regulations,” he adds.

Singapore is already suffering from chronic talent shortages in some banking functions, including technology and wealth management. “The demand in these areas outstrips candidate supply already. We used to have a lot of Malaysians coming into Singapore, but this has slowed down considerably, and Covid means we can’t open the door again for a while. It’s a double whammy from a supply perspective; it’s made a bad situation even worse,” says Lai.

Meanwhile, it’s become more difficult for Malaysian finance professionals to commute into Singapore for work. The Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) supports companies in Singapore and Malaysia by facilitating the movement of staff between both countries, but travelllers into Singapore now need to quarantine for 21 days on arrival. Earlier this month Malaysia introduced a compulsory 14-day quarantine period for PCA travellers. Both countries have suffered recent spikes in Covid cases.

“Banking professionals who had previously chosen to reside in Johor Bahru or Iskandar – for lifestyle or cost reasons – while carpooling daily across the border for work in Singapore, have had to make alternative accommodation arrangements during Covid-19,” says Tang.

Super rich Malaysians seem to be experiencing fewer problems. Billionaires from Malaysia, China and India have flocked into Singapore recently to ride out the pandemic and in some cases seek residency, Bloomberg reports.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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