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Product developers in demand in Asia

Asia's new in-demand job

Corporate and private banks in Hong Kong and Singapore spent much of their recruitment efforts in 2014 bulking up their ranks of relationship managers (RMs). So far this year, though, RMs aren’t moving jobs quite so often, and the people who develop the products they sell are becoming increasingly sought after.

Product developers in Asia aren’t only in demand, their job descriptions are changing as banks seek out-going candidates who aren’t afraid to face clients and influence sales staff. This is starting to tempt some RMs to consider a career in product development for themselves.

“Given last year’s robust RM hiring in Singapore, we will likely see more hiring in product and investment advisory roles. More expertise is required to support the higher number of sales staff,” says Josie Ling, a consultant at search firm Eban in Singapore.

Corporate banking and private banking are the most active sectors hiring product developers because “they are generally the more profitable businesses in the bank and aren’t as capital-intensive as investment banking, where it could be more difficult to justify new headcount,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong.

Demand for product developers is coming primarily from large banks with extensive in-house product offerings – think Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered in corporate banking and UBS, Citi, Credit Suisse, HSBC and Deutsche in private banking.

While skill shortages in Asian product development aren’t as extreme as in risk or compliance, recruitment isn’t always straight forward. “It’s a very niche market, with only limited talent within the same industry and country,” says Annie Cheung, general manager of recruitment at Links International in Hong Kong. “Most banks in Hong Kong are willing to open up the talent pool to cover the whole of Asia Pacific and to offer relocation packages.”

Banks are also targeting the increasing number of Asian RMs who are tiring of their jobs as they face more onerous revenue pressures. “Some people have moved from relationship-manager roles into product-related ones recently because they no longer want to work in a job that requires them to work to sales targets,” says Mullally. “And product roles still offer a good base salary, although bonuses aren’t as big.”

There’s a particular shortage of fixed-income product specialists, adds Sunny Kwak, a consultant in private banking at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong. “So when hiring for these roles managers interview candidates from different industries like global markets and DCM. But I hardly see overseas candidates getting hired because they don’t speak Chinese.”

Don’t expect to be able to hide out in the back office if you want to move into product development in Asia these days. “Job descriptions now cover everything from the product idea conception to commercialisation and sales support,” says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore. “Salespeople will turn to you as a repository of information, who can help them to make informed decisions and to better package and market products to their clients. You also need to keep abreast of the competition.”

Banks in Asia are looking for product developers who can create strong relationships with RMs and aren’t just focused on financial modelling and product testing. “Having the right personality is now very important for these roles,” says Charania. “You have to liaise with RMs more and more frequently to streamline processes and businesses practices,” adds Cheung from Links International. “So along with extensive technical knowledge of various structured investment products, you need excellent communication and presentation skills.”

With a growing number of firms expanding in both corporate and private banking in Asia, product-development professionals are increasingly attending client meetings alongside RMs – their presence and expertise helping to differentiate the bank from the competition. “This year we’re seeing product people definitely becoming more outward facing as they have to spend more time meeting with clients to understand their needs and develop products that can satisfy these needs,” says Mullally from Robert Walters.

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