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Shock as banks in Asia target front-office candidates for back-office roles

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There’s a back-office banking job in Singapore right now that is so sought after that banks are increasingly asking recruiters to find them front-office people to fill it. That job is…internal audit.

While a range of other back-office positions are being offshored away from expensive Singapore, internal auditors are largely staying put as they need to sit with the businesses they are covering.

Along with this in-built geographical stability, demand for internal auditors is increasing in Singapore this year as banks implement Basel III and other new regulations. “Banks are adjusting to these regulatory changes by restructuring internally, and there’s pressure to have ever tighter controls to lower risk,” says Chris Jay, sales director at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Singapore.

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Vacancies in internal audit in Singapore are dominated by large global banks, in particular Singapore stalwarts Citi and Standard Chartered, according to a recruiter who asked not to be named.

And these banks are now increasingly deploying auditors to particular departments within their business rather than to cross-functional audit teams. To fill such specialist roles banks are prepared to hire experts who aren’t actually auditors. “For example, some banks have now started to bring on board candidates with a control/risk mindset to be trained in internal audit,” says Matthew Ng, manager, banking and financial services, at recruiters Ambition in Singapore.

“Compliance professionals might not have audit experience, but they have closer ties with the regulators and understand the perspective of compliance departments, having worked in the space themselves,” adds Jay. “The hiring and training up of specialists is a key trend in the market right now. Technologist and front-office corporate bankers are in demand too, and I’ve recently seen a product controller move into audit.”

Even more surprisingly, private banks in Singapore are now occasionally even asking recruiters to find them relationship managers who want to become auditors. “We recently received an audit mandate to hire an RM because private banks know RMs speak the language of the front-office. But it’s been very difficult to fill,” says Jay.

And why would anyone, from a product controller to a private banker, want to move into audit in Singapore in the first place? “It’s actually a stable career in an expanding sector, with few redundancies or offshoring,” says Jay. “But the hiring process if you’re changing careers is longer – expect four of five rounds of vigorous interviews.”

If you do make the switch, expect a base salary at VP level of up to S$200k in Singapore, says Ng from Ambition.

In contrast to career changers, banks aren’t so keen on generalist auditors from the Big Four accounting firms. “It’s not usually the ideal option because of the lack of direct knowledge of the end-to-end processes within the banking industry,” says Ng. “But they might still be open to candidates who have audited financial institutions and have slightly more relevant experience.”

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