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How to get a graduate-level risk management job in Singapore or Hong Kong

Risk

The employment market for risk management jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong is buoyant and has been for the past five years. But for graduates, clinching a junior risk job is far from straight forward – here are some of the best ways to get your first break in Asian risk management.

“Risk has historically been challenging to get into due to its highly technical requirements, but regional Asian banks especially are now becoming more willing to take on entry-level candidates,” says Chris Mead, director of recruiters Hays in Singapore. Singapore-based OCBC offers a potential direct route into the function via its risk management internship, applications for which close on 13 December 2014.

By contrast, banks that aren’t headquartered in Singapore are less dependent on hiring local graduates and rely more on their ability to attract experienced risk staff. Specialist full-time risk traineeships are rare in Asia – Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s global risk programme is one of the few, but the application deadline has now past.

Risk internships are more common than traineeships, although not as numerous as the plethora of front-office summer roles available in Asia. BAML is among the firms taking on risk interns in both Singapore and Hong Kong (applications close 15 November 2014) – as are JPMorgan (9 November 2014) and UBS (14 November 2014) – while Morgan Stanley runs a Hong Kong-based programme (8 November 2014).

“Because demand for risk candidates – especially credit and operational risk – is growing in Asia, it will be no surprise if more banks soon start offering programmes to groom the young generation instead of scrambling for external talent years down the road,” says Sherry Zerh, a senior consultant at search firm Kerry Consulting in Singapore.

Rotate into risk management

In the meantime, if you do a non-specialist traineeship, rotating around different departments, it’s likely that a stint in risk will be included, so you will have a few weeks (or months) to prove your aptitude for the job. Graduates on the one-year financial markets programme at Standard Chartered in Singapore, for example, spend three months in risk before being let lose in the front office.

Rotational and specialist risk programmes alike will typically give you a taste of all three basic risk functions: credit, risk and operational (for a summary of what they involve, read this article). If you’re deciding between them and pondering your longer-term career and pay prospects, recruiters point to a growing talent shortage triggering high salary rises in operational risk in Asia, although credit risk makes up the bulk of banks’ headcount numbers. “Demand in ops risk over the next few years is looking good in Asia,” says Mead. “And if anything, it can in some ways be slightly easier to break into as it looks for slightly less technical experience,” says Mead.

In credit risk, an alternative way into you first role at a bank is to work at the Big Four first. “Interestingly in Singapore, we have seen some banks hiring external auditors for junior credit-risk positions. Those with a strong grasp of the credit cycle are preferred,” says Zerh.

As is the case in other regions, whatever methods banks in Asia use to recruit in risk, they all want one thing: strong academic results in highly numerate subjects, including banking, finance and accounting (obviously) as well as statistics, maths, physics and engineering. “Qualifications are very important for risk roles. Hiring managers usually look for more quantitative backgrounds and doing a Masters degree in a subject like financial engineering or applied finance can also help,” says Zerh from Kerry.

Careers paths in Asian risk management

Although risk offers comparatively bountiful job opportunities in Singapore and Hong Kong, it’s best to stick with the same bank for at least two years after the end of your graduate training (and to complete the FRM qualification). “Aside from training programmes, I seldom see junior risk management roles as candidates need to accumulate some years of experience – be it in a product, function, framework etc – to provide sound risk-management advice,” says Zerh.

Risk may not be a front-line job, but neither is it suitable for sensitive souls. Risk employees need to communicate with multiple departments on a daily basis and be able to influence bossy colleagues in the front office. “They also need to balance being risk-averse with proactively looking for solutions that allow banks some wiggle-room to take full advantage of certain market scenarios,” says Mead from Hays.

If you eventually tire of the profession, your entry-level risk role will have at least set you up for other banking jobs. Operational risk staff can try to transfer to internal audit, internal control or corporate governance, while market and credit risk can offer a route into product control. Corporate banks in Asia have even be known to hire credit-risk people for relationship manager roles as understanding the credit-approval process is becoming an increasingly important part of RM jobs.

Related articles:
Graduate and internship application deadlines for banks in Singapore and Hong Kong, 2014-2015
How to get an entry-level relationship manager job in Singapore or Hong Kong
How to get an entry level job in equity capital markets

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