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While the Monetary Authority of Singapore assesses 21 applications for its digital banking licenses, there is much talk within the finance community about the increasing impact of technology. The question is: can established banking institutions keep pace? One sign that the balance may be shifting is the increasing number of finance executives that are finding their way into the employ of Singapore’s leading fintech (financial technology) companies.

The migration of senior bankers to tech firms is nothing new in Singapore. As far back as 2017 the press reported on the finance industry’s struggle to attract top talent. This only increased, as tech firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, in particular, continued to climb up the list of ideal employer rankings. What is new is the extent to which technology companies are penetrating the financial services industry.

What began as a flurry of startup companies in payments has now snowballed into a barrage of well-funded technology platforms, covering almost every element of financial services. These include retail banking (Grab), e-wallets (Razer), local payments (Rapyd), investment management (Stashaway), insurance (Singapore Life), commercial banking (AspireArival Bank), robo-advisors (Bambu), and most recently, trade finance (dltledgers).

These companies are growing quickly – many on the back of significant, recent, venture capital investment. According to a report released by AccentureSingapore-based fintech firms raised more in the first nine months of 2019 (a record US$735 million (S$1 billion)) than in all of 2018 (US$642 million). It is no coincidence that these businesses all fit broadly within the Singapore government’s vision for a future economy built on intellectual property and fintech, alongside other “deep tech” industries like biotech, quantum computing, and robotics.

With this amplification in funding and attention, perhaps not surprisingly, has come acceleration in the shift of senior talent away from traditional banking institutions. This may even be partly assisted by government initiatives, such as [email protected] This is a pilot programme by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and trade promotion agency Enterprise Singapore, which is specifically designed to help “high-potential” technology companies to attract talent.

What is more, the trend can be seen at all levels of seniority – with technology companies snapping up the brightest minds in both mid- and senior-level positions. Recent high-profile appointments include Razer Fintech’s appointment of Neal Cross, in December 2019, to its board advisors. Cross previously headed up innovation at DBS – “the world’s leading digital bank” – and is best known for being named the world’s most disruptive CIO/CTO, by a panel that included Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson. The announcement of Cross joining Razer came only shortly after Societe Generale director, Jason Tay, joined Singapore-based currency conversion platform, M-DAQ, which at almost the same time doubled in its valuation, in its most recent funding round, to S$500m. Most recently, Nikhil Joshi, who was responsible for strategic and economic decision-making as Business Manager at Barclays, APAC, announced a move to one of Singapore’s newest, but fast-growing tech startups companies – cross-border trade platform and leading blockchain developer, dltledgers. Mr Joshi’s experience with complex transactions across credit, equity and FICC asset classes, specifically in relation to balance sheet and regulatory capital, demonstrates how Singapore’s fintech ecosystem has diverged a long way from its relatively simple beginnings.

These are far from isolated examples. Tushar Tejuja, Managing Director of Singapore-based HR tech startup focussed on technology recruitment, HackerTrail, says that the appointments you read about in the press are only the tip of the iceberg:

“At HackerTrail we’ve seen a huge increase in appetite for fintech among senior banking professionals. Not long ago a career in Singapore’s banking sector was seen as the ultimate goal, but now we see quite the opposite. Despite the finance sector’s investment in innovation, many bank employees tell us that, given the constraints caused by legacy infrastructure, compliance, and bureaucracy, it is difficult – if not impossible – for them to compete with the more agile, well-funded, and flexible fintech firms. It is literally a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, and in many cases we see candidates accepting significantly smaller packages in order to join what they see as a fintech revolution.”

There are 150 banks in Singapore, with a total asset size of nearly S$2 trillion. To foster innovation and stay relevant, many of these banks operate fintech-focused investment funds and accelerators, including all three of the dominant local banks – DBS InnovatesThe Open Vault at OCBC, and UOB. Leading banking figures have spoken publicly about so-called “dirsuptors”, and how the banks are prepared for their impact, but how extensive this impact will be in Singapore’s business world is yet to be seen.


SOURCE dltledgers

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