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“Singapore bankers change jobs for crazy reasons. You’re better off staying put”

Singapore bankers

I work in the HR team at a large US bank in Singapore. As you might imagine, although the job market isn’t exactly red hot, this is still a comparatively busy time of the year for me. During the bonus season, more people join us than normal, and more people resign to join our rivals.

However, for many finance professionals in Singapore, moving to a new bank in 2017 may actually be a crazy decision, especially if it’s made for the “wrong” reasons.

Candidates in Singapore often tell me why they want to move companies – and from these conversations I’ve identified what I think are the five most counter-productive, career-damaging motivations for taking a new banking job.

I’m looking for a pay rise, plain and simple

Yes, certain parts of the Asian banking sector, in particular compliance and relationship management, are witnessing pretty massive pay increases (20% or more) for those who change companies. But these are the exceptions – moving banking jobs in purely for the money generally isn’t a good idea. The majority of people who have joined new banks over the past 12 months in Singapore, have achieved an average increase of about 10% or less. When you think about it, 10% isn’t a lot. Inflation tends to sit at around 2% year-on-year and normally you can expect your salary to go up a little more than that (5% to 8% for high performers) internally. The risk/reward of changing roles for 10% isn’t great, particularly if you consider the importance of keeping your resume in good shape (staying with each employer a minimum of three years) and trying to build career momentum.

A lot of people have left my bank lately, maybe I should too?

Moves involving several members of the same team are fairly common in Singapore (especially in private banking). When talent is in short supply, banks that want to expand can save time and effort by poaching people in bulk from competitors. When a number of your colleagues depart at around the same time, you may be tempted to move too – but this could actually be a good time to stay right where you are. The mayhem of resignations can present some terrific opportunities for those who stay. For starters, your boss will view you as a loyal employee, particularly if you speak to them about your intention to stay and support them. Alternatively, you can always put your hand up for one of the now vacant roles. Either way, opportunity is at hand – so step up and make the best of a difficult situation and it will more than likely pay dividends for your career.

I’m feeling unmotivated in my role

If you think changing banks will solve this problem, think again. Unless you are one of the lucky few who is given the chance to try something genuinely different, there’s a good chance that you will be leveraging from your existing skill set. The functions I know best in Singapore – compliance, risk, product control, trade support, sales and relationship management – can all vary slightly from bank to bank, but overall the job descriptions I see are similar in scope and responsibilities. In other words, the solution isn’t another bank. Instead, think about what would motivate you and make you feel more inspired. Speak with your boss and find out if you could be considered for an internal move in the near future, or look into some external study, or get involved with your bank’s corporate social responsibility programme. If you can afford it, taking some unpaid leave to travel and recharge could also be the answer.

I’ve finished my CFA and want to cash in

Yes, you have invested time and money in bettering yourself and you would like to see some return. However, there’s a good chance that the opportunity you are looking for is right in front of you. Does your boss even know that you’ve been studying and have now completed the course? If not, it’s time to have a chat. If the answer is yes, it’s time for a follow-up chat. Find out if there’s any extra work that you can take on that would take advantage of your new set of skills. You probably won’t be paid extra (for now) for doing this work, so think of it as an investment in your career. The next time a good role comes up internally your name will be at the top of the list because you now possess the qualifications and most importantly, the attitude and work ethic that all bosses are looking for.

I didn’t get the promotion I was hoping for

This isn’t to be confused with a promotion that you were promised that didn’t eventuate. If you’ve been working hard all year and have fallen short of the bump from AVP to VP, for example, it’s best to speak with your boss about it. Find out if your performance fell short, or if it was something out of your control. Promotions are more difficult to come by in the Singapore banking sector now than they were during the boom era of 2005 to 2008, when banks were trying to build big back-office teams here. Achieving 90% of your target might not be good enough. Try to not overreact and throw in the towel, however, as leaving the bank means forgoing the hard work you’ve put in. Your boss will probably be more than happy to let you know what you need to do or where you need to improve to make it in 2017.

The author has been recruiting for the banking industry in Asia – in both agencies and in-house – for more than 10 years.


Image credit: filadendron, Getty

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