Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the UOB Better U Festival on 26 October 2022.
Mr Wee Ee Cheong, Deputy Chairman and CEO, UOB
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to join you for the launch of UOB’s Better U Festival 2022.
UOB introduced this annual conference in 2019, to rally your colleagues to advance the workforce transformation agenda, and to showcase and discuss new ways of working and preparing for future trends in the financial sector.
I am glad that after two years of running this virtually due to COVID-19, you are finally able to hold a physical festival this year.
The financial services sector has been a bright spot in the economy despite the pandemic.
The sector is a key driver of growth and jobs, adding more than 20,000 jobs from 2016 to 2020.
We are optimistic about the future of the sector. The recently refreshed Financial Services Industry Transformation Map has laid out strategies to capture growth opportunities, and to further develop Singapore as an international financial centre.
This will create many good jobs. MAS projects the sector to create 3,000 to 4,000 additional jobs per year between 2021 and 2025.
But even as we work with the industry to build a vibrant financial sector, we know that it ultimately boils down to People.
Your Festival theme is apt - “Better You”. Allow me to break this down – “Better” and “You”.
First, “Better”. How do we help workers acquire right skills, so that they can become “better” contributors?
Second, “You”. How do we foster a supportive work culture that is people-centric and looks out for “you” as a person?
Let me share my thoughts.
Let me start with how we can support everyone to become a “better” contributor.
The starting point is that it takes effort for any worker to keep up with the relentless pace of innovation in the sector. It can sometimes feel like swimming against the tide. \
Take, for instance, the digital wave in finance.
Technology has transformed the traditional banking experience. Today, anyone carrying a smartphone can already carry out a broad range of financial services, without stepping foot into the brick-and-mortar branch.
FinTech start-ups are also disrupting well-established business models, in areas like payments, lending, and investments.
Technological advancements such as high-speed internet, pervasive computing, and improvements in human-computer interactions can facilitate more efficient financial transactions, enhance financial inclusion, and unlock economic value.
The pace of change – which the pandemic has accelerated – would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago, when I was still in MAS.
Beyond the digital wave, the next disruption may very well come from the green wave. This green wave is just taking off, but I believe it will transform banking in the same unimaginable way as the digital wave did in the past decade.
McKinsey estimates that achieving net zero by 2050 would require about US$9.2 trillion of investment per year, but only about US$5.7 trillion per year is being invested today.
Singapore wants to contribute towards meeting this significant financing gap. We are currently ASEAN’s largest market for sustainable bond issuance.
In 2021, green, social and sustainability issuances from Singapore totalled USD25.3 billion, making up almost half of total ASEAN issuance volume.
With a diverse ecosystem of global financial institutions and real economy players in Singapore and the region, there are immense opportunities to use finance to support and accelerate the transition to net zero.
The digital wave and the green wave will transform jobs and operations. And our people will need new skills to ride on these waves.
For the digital wave, we need skills such as software engineering, data analytics, blockchain, and cyber security.
For the green wave, capabilities will be needed in structuring financing instruments, sustainability stewardship development and sustainability risk management, to name a few.
It is not just deep domain expertise that will be needed in these specific areas. Almost every job in the future will have shades of green or digital – from relationship managers to the back office.
And even for those who do have the right skills, if they do not constantly better themselves, the skills will soon become irrelevant.
Bettering yourself starts within the organisation.
In this regard, I am glad that UOB has introduced many useful programmes for your workers, to upskill and reskill.
Such as the new Technology and Operations Academy that you are launching today, which will help more of your workers build new technological and operational skills.
We can all do even better, if we work together as an industry to develop our talent.
This collective approach is not new to the financial sector. We started the Institute of Banking and Finance, or IBF, in 1974 for this purpose.
Over the years, IBF has played an important role in partnering financial institutions to transform their workforce and develop local talent to meet the sector’s evolving skills needs.
We now also have other training institutes, such as the Wealth Management Institute, to help deepen skills in strategic growth areas.
I am glad to see that the IBF, MAS, and the industry have continued to work closely together to address skills gaps. For example, under the Career Conversion Programmes, more than 4,400 professionals in consumer banking, operations and insurance have been or are being reskilled into new and enhanced job roles.
I am also delighted that UOB will be signing a MOU with IBF, NUS, SIT, and SIM today, to collaborate on further skills development, including not just technical skills, but also soft skills and leadership skills.
A workplace that looks out for “You”
I have spoken about supporting each worker to become a better, more skilled worker.
But each one of us is much more than the work skills that we have.
Just as important, it is about fostering a supportive culture. Each worker must feel that this is a workplace that looks out for “You”.
This is what ultimately allows each person to contribute and flourish.
We know that Singaporean families face pressures from multiple fronts.
Many are giving their best at work, but it can be difficult to balance this with other responsibilities at home, whether it is caring for children or elderly parents.
The government is committed to helping Singaporean families better cope with their responsibilities
But a big part of the solution lies in the workplace.
There are several aspects to this. First, ensuring the physical and mental well-being of each worker in the workplace.
It might be too much to expect every worker to look forward to coming to work, especially on Mondays!
But I think we all recognise that employee well-being and mental health are now key priorities amongst workers, not just here but around the world.
Younger generations entering the workforce may also have different aspirations and priorities. A recent Deloitte survey of millennials and Gen Zs globally found that when choosing a new job, the top priority was not pay, but instead work life balance.
And when people leave their jobs, pay is often not the main reason why they do so. MIT’s research has found that a toxic work culture is more than 10 times as predictive of attrition than insufficient compensation.
The Government has been working closely with companies and the labour movement on supporting the mental wellbeing of employees.
The Tripartite Advisory on Mental Wellbeing was rolled out in 2020, and sets out practical guidance on measures that employers can adopt.
I am glad that UOB is doing your part to contribute to this. For example, you have developed wellness programmes for your employees, and strengthened support for those who need advice or counselling.
Beyond immediate well-being, it is also important to give employees purpose and meaning in their work.
This is particularly salient for youths, as each generation’s aspirations continue to evolve.
The most successful companies will be the ones who are able to support the aspirations and dreams of their workers.
In turn, these workers will be the lynchpin of your future success.
A second aspect of a supportive working culture is to provide space for each of us to pursue our interests and responsibilities.
Flexible work arrangements are a part of this.
COVID has shown the possibilities of remote work.
This may not be possible for all companies and workers, especially those with front-line duties. It is also sometimes harder to learn and build camaraderie when just interacting virtually.
But some form of flexible work arrangement is here to stay – many employees expect it, and it is an important tool for attraction and retention.
The challenge is to find the right balance, and we will have to feel our way forward on this.
I am glad that we had a head-start on exploring this in Singapore.
The Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements was introduced in 2017, even before COVID.
It provides best practices for employers and recognises progressive employers that implement them.
I commend UOB’s efforts in this regard.
You have given the majority of your workforce the choice to work remotely two days a week, even after COVID.
You have also designed flexible options for gig employees, such as retired UOB employees who can come back for short-term or project-based opportunities.
I am also glad that for the first time this year, UOB is organising a career fair for those who are interested to explore career in finance, including on a flexible or gig basis.
Ultimately, a supportive and flexible work culture will be not just good for workers, but also good for companies and the sector as a whole.
Let me conclude. This Festival is most timely.
I hope that all companies, whether in the financial sector or other sectors, can continue to put your people at the forefront of your strategies.
If we are able to support each worker to become a “Better You”, I am confident that our financial centre and economy will continue to flourish.
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