Despite fierce competition from tech firms and rival banks in Singapore, UOB plans to expand its technology headcount during the rest of 2021. “We continue to welcome experts in data science, artificial intelligence, and systems architecture to enhance our operating performance and system capabilities,” says Susan Hwee, the bank’s head of group technology and operations. UOB’s tech hiring is primarily designed to support its wholesale banking business, tap the rising wealth of ASEAN customers, and enhance its regional infrastructure.
Hwee also wants to hire people “specialising in product engineering who can build solutions throughout the bank, and those with engineering and domain expertise who can put it all together”. “Roles such as developers, data analysts and UI/UX designers will continue to be critical in supporting UOB’s digital initiatives,” she says, adding that cybersecurity is another priority.
UOB’s recruitment agenda puts it in direct competition with other large banks in Singapore – led by Citi, Standard Chartered, DBS and OCBC – that are ramping up their tech recruitment in similar job functions. Singapore’s four new digital banks are building teams from scratch. Technologists in Singapore are also increasingly moving between sectors. Google, Amazon and Facebook have substantial local headcount needs. Tencent, Alibaba and ByteDance are hiring in Singapore, as are large payments firms and smaller fintechs. This has triggered talent shortages – especially in specialised roles like data analytics, blockchain and cybersecurity – which have been exacerbated by restrictions on foreign hiring during the pandemic.
“The banking industry is at a pivotal point of transformation, with new and emerging players offering different aspects of financial services or products, and with customers having an increasing preference for digital services. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for tech professionals who want to make an impact in their career and play a role in advancing the industry,” says Hwee.
Hwee believes banks can compete with tech firms in the job market, if they can offer more jobs that use cutting-edge tech. “For example, one of the most rewarding achievements of our technology team has been the build and launch of TMRW, the first mobile-only bank designed for ASEAN millennials, in Thailand and Indonesia, within just two years. Our technologists who specialise in AI, machine learning and data analytics played a key role in designing our digital engagement engine, which is what makes TMRW unique from other digital banks,” says Hwee.
Tech professionals will be more inclined to stick around at banks that offer agile working practices and clear career progression opportunities, she says. “UOB’s agile ways of working mean that our technologists work alongside business partners within UOB as part of the core team driving new innovative solutions. Our technologists benefit from this agile set-up as it enables them to better understand real-world business needs and to co-develop customer-centric experiences, services and solutions,” she says. “We also have in place several structures which enable our technology experts to rotate across different teams and to broaden their exposure and deepen their skill sets in different areas of technology.”
Tech professionals at UOB have had their work cut out for them so far this year. At the bank’s Q1 results presentation last month, CFO Lee Wai Fai highlighted “deepening digitalisation” for wholesale clients as cashless payments to businesses in Singapore rose 43% quarter on quarter.
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