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Banks across Asia scramble to hire for this hot skill-set

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Compliance professionals in Asia are tipped to be hot property again in 2015 – as they have since the global financial crisis hit in 2008 – but amid the booming job market in the middle office there’s one job which most banks in both Singapore and Hong Kong are keen to recruit for – anti-money laundering (AML).

Crackdowns on AML procedures by both the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants last year, mean banks in the city-state are suddenly scrambling to hire AML professionals.

“There was a huge surge in demand for compliance professionals in 2014 due to regulatory pressures and fines,” said Suan Wei Yeo, a director at executive search firm Profile Search & Selection. “We see this particularly in high demand areas such as AML and regulatory compliance.”

Similar trends are also seen in Hong Kong. According to Hong Kong police, the number of suspicious transactions reports it received in 2014 rose by 15%. Sources say the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) will step up efforts and take more prosecution actions against money laundering in 2015. To do that, it even created an AML division.

Not surprisingly, there’s a skills-shortage emerging. Recruiters Robert Walters found out in its annual salary survey that AML professionals in Hong Kong are able to command 15-20% pay rise on average if they move to another employer, while those who stay put are gaining less than 10%. Will Tan, managing director of headhunters Principle Partners, says that pay rises for AML staff in Asia could be anywhere between 10 to 30%.

“Demand for AML has been increasing across the entire Asia,” said one Singapore-based consultant from the global risk consultancy firm Control Risks, who asked not to be named. “We see a lot of multinationals recruiting for AML operations since last year.”

Stella Tang, Singapore managing director of recruitment agency Robert Half revealed that banks have doubled or tripled the size of their compliance teams in Singapore. This is echoed by Tan as well. “Both buy side and sell side are hiring,” he says.

There are top-level AML job movements too. Just about a month ago, Carolina Garces-Monterrubio, who was previously head of financial crime for EMEA at RBS’s corporate and institutional bank, joined HSBC to become its global head of AML for commercial banking. Then just about ten days into 2015, her RBS colleague Mary Squire, who used to be the head of sanctions and anti-money-laundering for the Americas, also quitted RBS and started at HSBC in a similar role. For HSBC, the memory of being fined US$1.9bn in 2012 by the US authorities in a high-profile money-laundering case may still be fresh, and signing on top talents to enhance its AML practice could well mean a hiring spree in this area.

Both Singapore and Hong Kong are regional financial centres where money flows freely across the border with very little oversight. But “if you take money without knowing the source, it will come back biting you,” warns Tan.

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