Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters tends to be an astute observer of employment trends in the Asian finance sector – and he’s been on somewhat of a roll so far this year.
Just last month Winters pointed to the issue of surging salary inflation when he told Bloomberg that the bank is having to “pay up” to meet employees’ rising expectations, while saving money in other areas. “I hope that we can continue with that trend, i.e. find the savings to pay for ever more pricey talent,” he added.
Now Winters has spoken in a South China Morning Post interview about Singapore and Hong Kong’s differing approaches to Covid and the impact on employees.
Notably, Winters thinks Singapore’s easing of Covid travel restrictions has made the Republic a more desirable placed to be based. “It’s really interesting to me to see how people have rebalanced or re-equilibrated once things open up. You don’t hear the massive complaints about lifestyle, about separation from families in Singapore any longer because for a few months now – it’s not the easiest thing – people have been able to leave and come back. The authorities have taken concrete steps to make it easier to operate,” he explained.
Winters was presumably referring to Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VLT), which allow visitors from some countries to enter the Republic without quarantine as long as certain Covid-testing requirements are met. Singapore is further streamlining its border measures from Tuesday.
Before the VTL programme was introduced late last year, however, expats in Singapore were growing increasingly frustrated at the country’s quarantine regime, which made it hard for them to secure re-entry slots after trips overseas.
The Singapore finance sector faces intense talent shortages, especially in technology, but there are growing signs that foreign professionals are starting to return to the country, following a decline in their numbers during the pandemic. Recruiters say that, alongside the expanding VLT programme, Employment Passes are becoming more straightforward to obtain in the finance sector this year.
Meanwhile, CEO Winters told the SCMP that Hong Kong will ultimately experience the same resurgence as Singapore, although the timetable for any reopening of its harsh border rules – which include a 14-day quarantine period – remains unclear. “Assuming we get out of the back end of this period of hyper restriction, zero-Covid policy before too long, I think Hong Kong will be just fine,” said Winters.
Winters said the Hong Kong travel restrictions had not materially impacted SCB’s business and it had no plans to move staff from the city. But he said they had impacted morale. “It’s just tough for people not to be able to connect with their colleagues in different parts of the world. Of course, they’re seeing each other on Zoom or Blue Jeans or whatever, but it’s not the same.”