Trust is the primary currency of any banking system and banking supervisors like Mr Joshua Sim play an important role in safeguarding that trust.
“We have seen what happens in other countries when trust in the banking system breaks down. Customers lose faith and start to ask for their money back,” says the 26-year-old.
“In the worst-case scenario, this lack of trust could cause banks to fail and collapse, leading to loss of savings and economic instability.”
An associate with the Financial Supervision Group of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), his responsibilities range from evaluating the adequacy of banks’ risk controls through on-site inspections or off-site reviews, to ensuring that banks are treating their customers fairly.
A typical workday for him would include engagements with various stakeholders, including the banks and regulators in jurisdictions in which the banks operate.
“We assess the bank’s framework for risk management in various areas, such as credit and liquidity risk, to ensure that the bank’s policies are robust and can weather macro-economic uncertainties,” he explains.
As Singapore’s central bank and integrated financial regulator, MAS oversees all financial institutions in the country, including banks, insurers, capital market intermediaries, financial advisers and stock exchanges.
“A financial supervisor is like a referee ensuring that all the players on the pitch – in this case, the banks – are playing by the same rules that MAS has set out,” he says.
Apart from compliance, Mr Sim underscores that his role is fundamentally about fostering public trust in Singapore’s banking system.
“It’s about ensuring that customers in Singapore trust the banks and that the financial institutions are doing right by their customers,” he emphasises, citing ongoing efforts to combat money laundering and scams as well as initiatives to promote digital inclusion.
Being part of the regulatory body grants him an industry-wide perspective.
“Each bank can see for themselves what their practice is. As the regulator, you get to see all the practices of different banks,” he says.
“We benchmark banks against their peers so each bank can learn from industry best practices and strengthen their risk management framework.”
While MAS’ supervisory dealings with banks remain confidential, Mr Sim points to scams prevention as one hot-button area where he has been able to contribute.
“We work closely with the banks to enhance their anti-scam measures, both in the front- and back-end systems,” he says. “I find it very rewarding to be able to help protect the hard-earned savings of Singaporeans.”
Mr Sim joined MAS as a graduate officer in 2021 after acquiring his economics degree from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom on the MAS Undergraduate Scholarship.
His love of economics began during his junior college days. During one of his economics lectures, he learnt how MAS manages monetary policy through the exchange rate.
“As I learnt about the impact of exchange rate policy on economic growth, inflation and unemployment, I realised that MAS’ responsibility of calibrating exchange rate policy was an important one,” says Mr Sim.
Intrigued, he attended an MAS scholarship session where officers shared about the central bank’s other responsibilities, such as financial supervision and reserves management, and how decisions made at MAS have a real-world impact.
He says he chose MAS over other government agencies and statutory boards because he wanted to use his knowledge of economics to contribute to Singapore.
While his economics degree may not be directly linked to his current role, it provided him with “a strong foundation in analytical thinking and problem-solving,” he says.
“Through my studies, I honed the ability to abstract and simplify complex problems, and to use scientific methods and empirical analyses to arrive at solutions.
“These skills have been invaluable in my current work, where I often need to analyse complex data and make informed recommendations based on that analysis.”
Dispelling a common misconception, Mr Sim clarifies that MAS officers do not necessarily need an economics background.
“Most people know MAS for its role in economic policy, but there are many other meaningful career paths within the organisation for which you don’t need an economics degree,” he says.
Trainee officers like Mr Sim are enrolled in the MAS Diploma incorporating relevant courses on banking supervision and financial analysis. He has attended ad-hoc courses on emerging topics such as climate risk, digital assets and decentralised finance.
“These courses are useful in my supervision of banks, building my understanding of key regulatory principles and the risks associated with current and emerging trends in the financial industry,” he says.
Such trends include cyber security threats, sustainability and green finance.
Having undergone internships across various MAS departments, including the supervisory policy department and financial markets development department, Mr Sim says the best thing about the organisation is its supportive work culture.
“The staff at MAS are incredibly smart and dedicated. Beyond the intellect and passion, they are also extremely kind and helpful,” he says.
“There is a saying in my department: You can ask a single question and get 10 different responses because so many people are willing to help you.”