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Hot jobs in Hong Kong: A preview of the hiring year ahead

Here’s our take on which job functions will be in demand in Hong Kong and Singapore this year.

Java developers

“With many banks choosing to invest in growth-enabling technologies, we have begun to experience an acute talent gap for developers, in particular those with Java skills. They are required to undertake migrations and upgrades, and provide new solutions to increase efficiency in the front office. As demand increases, Java developers in Hong Kong are becoming few and far between, and we need to look outside normal recruitment avenues,” says Vicky Liu, consultant, Astbury Marsden.

UK and Australia-based developers typically earn high contract day-rates and are not interested in Hong Kong roles which are rarely as lucrative. “But candidates from India are still popular, particularly when vendors such as Wipro and Headstrong continue to grow and develop staff. Singapore also offers strong people, especially product-focussed technologists,” adds Liu.

She thinks the more “surprising” talent pool this year will come from Continental European countries, including the Netherlands, Russia, France and Germany. “Candidates in these locations tend to work on a permanent basis so once they have relocated, they are not only able to offer strong product knowledge and leadership, but they are more loyal than serial contractors.”

Operational risk

Operational risk candidates came into increased demand during the GFC and their importance is highlighted whenever a bank suffers from a high profile operational failure, such as an IT outage. “The pressure will be on financial institutions this year to identify and attract high calibre senior candidates with experience in implementing and developing contingency plans,” says Ben Batten, head of Kelly Selection Singapore.

However, because the growth of operational risk is relatively recent, there is a talent shortage and no ideal short-term solution to solving it. Banks are therefore considering candidates from internal audit and traditional risk backgrounds, according to Batten. “The challenge for most organisations is there simply isn’t a model that outlines how they are effectively managing this risk, and they are therefore struggling to come to terms with how to manage the myriad of variables.”

Business finance partners

There was increased demand for senior business finance partners at director and MD-level last year in Singapore, says Neil Dyball, manager, finance & risk, Robert Walters. These professionals deal directly with the front-office on strategic growth and capital management issues in order to reduce costs and maximise revenue-generation opportunities.

“We expect this trend to continue into 2011 as the market continues to evolve. This is an exciting time for the Singapore finance community as more opportunities are created within the front office, and having a lower cost base provides a greater opportunity to improve firms’ profitability. Singapore will continue to attract senior talent from around the world for business finance partnering roles,” he adds.

Relationship managers, private banking

As the status of Singapore as South East Asia’s key financial centre ever increases, so too does the demand for private wealth management services in the city state, says Nick Poole, executive director, Tiglon Partners Asia. There are now an estimated 3,000 relationship managers at private banks in Singapore, but with almost every firm – from Bank of Singapore to UBS – wanting to expand their headcounts to capture a larger share of regional wealth, the country is facing a serious talent shortage in 2011.

If they can’t poach private bankers, firms will be forced to hire or internally move corporate bankers and investment bankers with strong client connections. Demand for RMs is also expected to be strong in Hong Kong. “The projected growth in hiring in Asian private banking is driven by two key factors. Firstly, the growth of high-net-worth individuals in Asia itself, and secondly the potential flow of client funds from areas including Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Latin America,” explains Charles Rixon, director, The Laurus Group.

Change management in finance

Finance change managers have been in high demand since late 2009 as a result of investment banks’ focus on cost reduction, as well as new banking regulations introduced post-GFC. “Since the financial crisis there has been an appetite to simplify and gain consistency within the finance function by reducing the number of systems required. Also, acquisitions and mergers over the last two years have called for finance professionals to fill integration project roles,” comments Chris Jay, managing director, Morgan McKinley Singapore.

There will be a talent shortage across Asia in this function due to this high demand, mainly at AVP level and upwards, says Jay. “Candidates such as senior product or financial controllers with an understanding of the finance department, as well as project or change management knowledge, are highly sought after, frequently receiving counter offers from institutions keen to secure their skills.”

Most financial services institutions in Singapore will be hiring from more established markets, such as the UK, Continental Europe and Australia, this year. Demand has led to a growth in contract jobs, which were previously hard to find in Asia.

Ecommerce project managers

Continued competition to build systems that can differentiate banks in the ecommerce arena means experienced project managers will be in hot demand in 2011. While many projects, in particular online and mobile banking ones, have been underway for some time, the competition to recruit and retain in this specialist job function will remain, comments Claire Smart, operations manager, Randstad.

Many candidates are already entrenched in ongoing projects, so the challenge for employers is to convince them to move. “On the flip side, project managers who can bring creative and innovative ideas around online customer behaviour will be more sought after than those who can simply role out a project. They also need to prove that their soft skills like communication, influencing and business partnering are just as impressive as their technical skills,” says Smart.

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