[SINGAPORE] If bank employees are stereotyped as graduates with a penchant for job hopping, then Amy Low, 57, is an aberration on both counts.
The non-graduate has just marked 35 years with DBS Bank, during which time the A-level holder rose from being a clerical assistant in the trade finance department in 1979 to her current job - as vice-president (VP) of trade services, technology & operations, leading a team of 49 people.
Among the 10 per cent of DBS' VP population in Singapore who are not degree holders, she is a long way from her first rank-and-file job with the bank.
The Singapore banking industry, like others here, is grappling with a tight labour market, an ageing workforce and increasing use of technology. Not only do industries here need to ensure that their workers can keep up with the changes, they need to provide them the opportunities to do so.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam made this point in August, when he said at the 60th anniversary dinner of the Singapore Bank Employees' Union (SBEU) that, as banking increased in complexity and customers became more sophisticated, employers have to provide training and ensure opportunities for the rank-and-file to raise their skill levels. Mr Tharman, who is also Minister for Finance, said the increasingly complex jobs in the financial sector will require deeper skills and expertise in every segment of the workforce.
Banking now employs almost 190,000 people, of whom almost three-quarters are Singaporeans.
Mr Tharman had told the 6,000-member SBEU: "The union should encourage workers to upgrade themselves and work with employers to understand their needs and identify opportunities for more structured career progression for rank-and-file workers."
As an employer, DBS has set up comprehensive internal-training roadmaps for each business unit; it also sponsors its employees on external courses, said Cheong Meng Foong, the bank's managing director and group head of rewards for human resource.
In addition, the bank has a "2+2" policy: Staff who have completed two years in their roles may apply for internal transfers to jobs for which they have the right skills and experience; if their applications are successful, their managers have to release them within two months.
And if a position becomes available, internal candidates with the right experience and skills are preferred for the position over external ones.
Ms Cheong said: "More than a third of our staff rotate in a year. With this two-pronged approach, we have seen our staff progressing through the ranks." She added that one in five employees is promoted yearly.
Ms Low may well be a poster child for bank workers who keep abreast of the growing complexity of banking operations. She has managed this so well that she has been sent to train DBS staff in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Taiwan and London.
She told The Business Times that she had a lot of on-the-job training in her early years with the bank.
Her first overseas assignment came in 1994, when she was sent to Hong Kong as the bank's operations manager.
"They needed a single, adventurous lady," she said.
She was there for 11 years, during which time her job scope expanded to include working on the team handling the transfer of shares of the five companies in the Jardine group to the Singapore Exchange's Central Depository following their delisting from the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong and listing here.
She was next sent to Los Angeles to beef up the trade finance team there as DBS grew its trade business.
After three years in LA, she was sent to Taiwan to help with the post-integration of the former Bowa Bank, which DBS bought in 2008.
"I was tasked to go in to help train the local team to do things the DBS way," she said.
Her next stop was London, where her colleagues affectionately called her "Blimey O'Reilly", after an Irish expression of disbelief and shock, whenever they needed her help.
Ms Low said that even out there in the overseas branches, the managers sent over from Singapore were all degree holders, and that she was the only non-grad sent out from Singapore.
Back in Singapore since 2012, she continues to apply her can-do spirit whenever the bank upgrades applications or introduces new systems.
"I'm inquisitive... When there's a new system, I'd want to find out for myself how to use the system, how to teach people... find out the short cuts.
"Having a degree would teach you critical and logical thinking, but it is time and being hands-on that cultivates experience and a career," she said.