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Why it’s now so difficult for private bankers to move from India to Singapore

Singapore Airlines

In theory it’s a good example of candidate supply meeting employer demand: private bankers are being laid off in India at the same time as private banks in Singapore are expanding their teams which service expat Indians.

But moving from India to a private banking job in Singapore this year is proving far from straight forward.

Despite rapid growth in millionaire wealth in India, UBS, Morgan Stanley and Macquarie have all abandoned the Indian private-wealth sector over the past year as they struggle to generate revenue in the face of regulatory crackdowns, lack of currency convertibility and a market unaccustomed to paying for wealth advice.

“It’s a one-horse market: only Indian equities give any real return. The fixed income, FX and other financial markets aren’t as developed and therefore Indian on-shore private banking remains unattractive,” says Rahul Sen, a former private banker at HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch in India who is now a director at headhunters Sheffield Haworth in Singapore.

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Indian private bankers who’ve been made redundant or who are seeking more lucrative opportunities abroad are turning their attention to jobs in Singapore. Private banks are trying to tap more revenue from the millionaires within Singapore’s growing non-resident Indian (NRI) diaspora community.

“This year we’re got quite a few requests from Indian bankers wanting to move out, but the international banks in Singapore aren’t willing to risk greenhorn hires,” says Sen. Another private-banking headhunter in Singapore, who asked not to be named, agreed that relocations from Indian were rare, despite “lots of hiring” within NRI banking in Singapore.

While the Fair Consideration Framework – new rules which beef up the work-permit process in Singapore – is due to kick in next month, immigration laws are not the main constraint on Indian bankers. The FCF’s flagship regulation, which forces employers to initially advertise jobs only to locals on a government job board, doesn’t apply to roles paying more than S$144k. Private bankers at VP level in Singapore earn annual base salaries of between S$220k and S$320k, according to the Robert Walters Salary Survey.

“The problem is that bankers in India need to have a book of NRI clients, or clients with existing offshore assets, to be considered for a job in Singapore. And even those that do, find that these clients aren’t easy to migrate to a new bank,” says Sen. “You must move a substantial amount of assets from onshore to offshore, and due to Reserve Bank of India regulations that’s not easy either. Only exceptional candidates managing ultra-wealthy clients will be considered in Singapore.”

If you’re already an NRI private banker in Singapore, consider yourself in high demand: private banks there are busy poaching from one another. Early this week BNP Paribas Wealth Management appointed Masroor Batin as head of its Singapore-based NRI division, hiring him from Julius Baer after a mere eight months at the Swiss bank. While Batin began his banking career in India, he has been an NRI banker in the US and Singapore for several years.

Last month EFG Private Bank hired another NRI veteran, Amrit Singh, from Barclays to head up a Singapore-based global NRI desk. “He moved with a small team and has been mandated to grow their NRI business in Asia, Switzerland and the UK,” says the anonymous headhunter.

Meanwhile, former Coutts banker Amresh Acharya joined ANZ Private Bank in May as head of Singapore NRI.

“‎NRI entrepreneurs and senior managers in Singapore and across Asia continue to be attractive as clients to private bankers,” says Sen from Sheffield Haworth. NRIs tend to take a proactive approach to investing, which leads to higher fees for private bankers.

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