DESPITE recent market changes, Singapore saw close to 22,000 jobs added last year.

In particular, both insurance and mass affluent class wealth management are booming. The boom has spurred a massive demand for talent and the supply of such talent is lagging behind industry growth.

The supply of fresh graduates and foreign talent is insufficient and financial institutions need to recruit talent from other industries to fill the gap.

Mr Dennis Khoo, general manager for wealth management of Standard Chartered, is looking beyond the industry for good relationship managers.

He says: "In sales, we are hiring quick learners from outside the finance industry. There's no way around this problem except to institutionalise more knowledge and simplify our processes and use tools more effectively to overcome high demands for talent."

Mr Kong Eng Huat, managing director of global wealth management at Merrill Lynch, is also a believer in taking talent from other sources. He suggests that sourcing people from different cultures, nations, demographics or even other industries is an efficient way to solve the talent crunch because employers can pick people with rare "soft skills".

"Finding experienced people with great people skills and high EQ is always a challenge. Plus, we need them to be technical as well," he says.

"You can only train so much for soft skills like being able to gain clients' trust. But because of the technical knowledge involved, we also look to take people in from other divisions of the bank. New relationship managers from other areas bring a fresh perspective."

Mr Mark Lim, executive director of the General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA), shares similar concerns. The general insurance sector is also targeting fresh new talent and mid-level executives.

He says: "We reach out to undergraduates, junior college students and young professionals through a series of profiling talks, events and career fairs. We need to let people know what the GIA is doing."

Taking the lead

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) recognises that a deep pool of skilled talent is critical to the continued success of the financial sector.

Says Mr Ng Nam Sin, executive director of financial centre development at MAS: "MAS works closely with organisations such as the Institute of Banking and Finance, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), various institutions of higher learning as well as financial industry players, to enhance the overall standards of the financial industry.

"Such initiatives include the Financial Industry Competency Standards (FICS), which is a 'roadmap' of competencies and associated training curriculum for practitioners in specific job roles across the whole industry."

The training infrastructure for the financial sector has been boosted with the appointment of the Singapore College of Insurance (SCI), Financial Training Institute @ SMU, Wealth Management Institute, NUS Risk Management Institute and International Compliance Association as lead providers of FICS programmes.

Mr Ng also explains that a series of training programmes - like the Wealth Management Institute's Master of Science in Wealth Management and Certificate in Private Banking programmes -- to raise the capabilities of Singapore's existing talent stock is also in place.

Nanyang Polytechnic will collaborate with the fund administration industry in offering the specialised fund administration training programmes.

"We would like to see more financial institutions invest in training their staff in key areas such as risk management, financial engineering and economics.

"Such a pool of financial specialists would contribute to the long-term objective of Singapore as a leading financial centre," adds Mr Ng.

Mid-career switch

To address the manpower shortage, the WDA is keen to facilitate the conversion of mid-career professionals into the financial sector.

Dr Gary Willmott, WDA's deputy chief executive, says: "These mid-career switchers could perhaps be coming out of lagging industries. They can bring experience and skills sets that fresh graduates do not have."

For this select group, the WDA offers the Financial Services Professionals Conversion Programme and works with employers and training providers like SCI to provide conversion training.

This lowers the risk for employers, defraying some of their costs. The WDA provides individuals the opportunity for conversion by partnering the training provider and employers and supporting the course fees.

Companies can use this new avenue to recruit trainees who demonstrate the aptitude and skills required. Dr Willmott says: "We can mitigate the risk for the company and the individual - it is a value-added recruitment."