Front office Singaporean core: Response to a reader


Gateway to a dream career?

Hi Void Decker!

I refer to your latest article “Why a front office Singaporean core is important” ( I assume that you’re not working in the financial sector. Please forgive me if I’m wrong).

I would define myself as a determined individual with a strong passion for finance. I graduated with a diploma in banking and financial services and I intend to pursue a related degree at LSE. I would never claim to be an expert on the financial sector (after all I’m just a student), however I just want to share with you my experience based on my dealings with lecturers (all of them ex-bankers) industry professionals and financial forums and news outlets.

In your article I believe your discussion is centered around sales and trading (or S&T in industry lingo). However the discrimination against Singaporeans for front office roles extends towards IBD/(to a certain extend) wealth management/private equity as well. This is because top financial institutions around the world (eg: Goldman Sachs) hire mostly at “target schools”. These target schools includes your usual elite institutions like Ivy League, OxBridge and LSE. Our much vaunted local (in my context) universities like NUS, NTU and SMU are not target schools. Not to mention the fact that most Singaporeans who study at the above-mentioned target schools are likely to hold a PSC or some other kind of bonded scholarships.

There are other ways of getting into front office roles though. They include our old friend nepotism (leverage on those connections!) or just belong to a super rich family whose worth at least tens of millions of US dollars (why these people work is beyond my understanding just live off those capital gains and dividends/interests/rent!).

Unfortunately this leaves a very small (and elite) pool of Singaporeans that banks would hire for front office roles. This is how the financial sector works and neither our government nor the people can change it. (This is also the reason why I am dead-set on LSE, my future is doomed/screwed/<insert any appropriate vulgarity> if I study in local universities). In addition there is the issue of “racial discrimination” as well (I will not pinpoint any ethnic group here).

I am very concerned about the livelihood of my fellow Singaporeans. May I request that you keep this conversation private and my identity hidden.

Thank you for your time and your thought-provoking posts. Keep them going!

I’d appreciate any feedback you could provide.

Kindest Regards
A Reader

Hi A Reader,

Thanks for taking the time to write, and for giving me permission to share it here! Why do you assume I don’t work in the industry? Do I not sound like I know what I’m writing about? :)

Unfortunately I won’t be surprised if there is some form of “preferential hiring” in other areas such as IB and wealth management, although for S&T and IB the problem is also that there just aren’t as many such jobs in Singapore. But it is not entirely true that nobody  from our local universities has gone to front office. I have heard of a very select few who have done so, but these are the top graduates of each cohort (maybe a handful per batch). So don’t depend on it.

Besides going through the expensive way of studying at LSE, it is possible to go through the middle office route. Most banks have some sort of associate programs in Singapore that take in graduates into operations, finance, etc. After a few years there it is not impossible to move to front office. I say “not impossible” because this is not as common as it used to be. One reason is that by then you will be treated as an experienced hire where you are competing with many others with front office experience who were laid off. Another reason is that banks may be less willing to move staff from middle to front office due to recent cases of banking frauds involving traders formerly from middle office who knew the systems too well to hide their unauthorised trading activities.

Of course, if you can afford it, studying overseas such as in LSE is the best option. It is always best to enter the industry as a fresh graduate, ideally through an internship. An early start can do wonders for a successful career. I just read today in The Business Times (behind paywall) that the CEO of Julius Baer joined the industry at the age of nineteen. He didn’t even have a degree because he went through an apprenticeship.

Studying in LSE will also give you the chance to work in London where there are more such front office opportunities. But note that such things are never guaranteed — I know of people who studied in such famous universities but failed to land jobs in front office as well. It is after all a very competitive sector, even if perhaps not as lucrative as before. Another thing to note if you plan on working in London for some years before returning to Singapore some day, you may end up specialising in an area that has little demand in Singapore. This is an issue many overseas Singaporeans face on returning.

It’s really good you know what you want! Don’t worry too much, you have time on your side.

Void Decker