In this episode of KPMG’s SG Budget 2024 Insights, Lim Xin Yi, Director, Corporate Tax Planning, KPMG in Singapore speaks with Lee Sze Yeng, Managing Partner, KPMG in Singapore and Murray Sarelius, Partner and Head of Personal Tax and Global Mobility Services, Tax, KPMG in Singapore. They discuss how Singapore can intensify efforts to attract top-tier talent, especially in new growth areas, and fortify itself as a global talent hub.
Read video transcript below.
The talent landscape is getting complex. We have been through ‘The Great Resignation’ and right now, we are seeing the global battle for talent reach fever pitch. As Singapore navigates various challenges, what can the country do to help businesses invest meaningfully in their workforce and facilitate their talent needs?
Lee Sze Yeng: Businesses are confronted with many challenges. They have to tackle the immediate economic concerns and yet keep their eyes on longer-term strategic issues, such as how to stay innovative and competitive, how they should embed ESG into their businesses as well as how do they embrace new technologies.
And with this, we are seeing more CEOs shifting their priorities towards upskilling and reskilling their workforce, making sure that their talent remains relevant and educated.
This will not only benefit Singaporeans. If you think about it, it does help Singapore to achieve its economic ambitions and boost our status as a global talent hub. I hope the upcoming Budget can do more to support companies and individuals to prioritise upskilling for the future economies. The measures should ensure that learning remains accessible and affordable, and this can take the form of doubling the Course Fees Relief Cap to $10,000.
Yes, indeed, in uncertain times, cost is definitely one of the factors. Many businesses have also said that they are looking for further government support on this in the upcoming Budget. Murray, from a tax perspective, what are some of the measures that we can look at to ease talent costs?
Murray Sarelius: The first thing that is important is that tax shouldn't dominate commercial decisions. It is important that we have tax get out of the way, and that it should support the decisions but not act as a barrier or a distraction. Secondly, a lot of companies are starting to look to equity compensation as a way of attracting talent, remunerating people and also aligning staff interests with those of the shareholders and other stakeholders.
So, if we combine those two points, we believe that it is important to have clear rules that make an employer indifferent, whether they provide cash remuneration or equity compensation to staff. To do this, we're proposing that company tax rules should provide a clear deduction for equity-based remuneration, regardless of whether the shares that are given to staff are a fresh issue of shares or treasury stock.
Singapore's success hinges on its ability to uplift enterprises to meet emerging business needs, such as ESG. Sze Yeng, could you share how the budget could better support companies in strengthening their talent capability building for ESG and the green economy?
Lee Sze Yeng: With the transition to a green economy, businesses must invest in tools and training to upskill their people. This would include recruiting qualified trainers as well as having the right infrastructure and promoting innovation.
That said, the concept of green skills has gone beyond the traditional green jobs. Therefore, it is important to periodically revalidate current businesses across different sectors and value chains to identify where businesses may need to integrate sustainability into job roles. Such capacity-building initiatives can take the form of public-private partnerships.
Diving deeper, sustainable finance is also set to drive Asia's green transition. With this, demand for professionals with the right expertise is expected to grow. How should we look at equipping Singapore's talent and businesses for this?
Lee Sze Yeng: At present, we do see a gap in environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainable finance competencies in the market. Hence, in the upcoming Budget, the Government can explore creating a comprehensive ESG talent development roadmap by sector or value chain. This could comprise upskilling and reskilling initiatives, with incentives, such as tax deductions or tax subsidies for employers with a clear training roadmap.
It is also important to be open to foreign talent in selected areas that we are building capabilities as well as where we have immediate gaps. Thinking about early education is also something we need to start immediately, which is to get Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to refresh the curriculum to address industry needs and areas where industries intend to tap sustainable finance.
We believe that building Singapore's sustainable finance expertise will uplift businesses to be more competitive globally as well as open doors to new opportunities.
Definitely, sustainable finance will be an area to watch. Bringing in the right talent from across disciplines is also a crucial part of driving innovation in Singapore. Murray, would you be able to share how the Government can better facilitate the global movement of talent, so that it can boost its ambition as a leading innovation hub?
Murray Sarelius: Tax needs to be there to support and help, rather than hinder talent initiatives. The international movement of talent is really important for Singapore, particularly as companies and countries compete for a pool of talent that is now considered to be global. Also, new skills are emerging, and we need those. So, as we compete for that talent, we have to attract new skills into Singapore as well as being able to export people to gain new experience, gain new skills and then bring them back to Singapore.
Tax gets more complicated as soon as you move people across borders. It is important that there is an alignment of tax systems, so that we do not create unnecessary friction between systems. For this reason, we are proposing that Singapore should align the taxation and sourcing of equity income with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) norms and also look at tax concessions to make business travel easier.
Lee Sze Yeng: Adding on to the point, we already see technology companies, including multinational corporations (MNCs) and start-ups, often use stock options as a form of remuneration to attract talent from across the world. This is one of the reasons why we are recommending for the Government to align the treatment with the OECD approach. The alignment with international practices will put us on par with other global talent hubs, but also without imposing additional tax obligations on foreign employees.
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