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Foreign experience is everything for Asia’s hottest finance job

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There’s been a recurring theme in finance hiring in Asia – and much of the world for that matter – in the recent past: If you want a secure, well-paid job, risk and compliance is your best bet, and you don’t even need a relevant qualification.

The catch, though, is that you need experience, and given the newness of the key rules and regulations, experienced people are thin on the ground. In Asia, where financial institutions are increasingly demanding local skills and knowledge, foreigners with solid risk and compliance experience don’t need to tick that box to get a job in the region.

Recruitment firms say the most sought-after skills include expertise in complex new legislation and guidance, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), and Basel III risk management rules.

The first three are not only enforced on US financial institutions, but also apply to any foreign-registered company or foreign national that does business with them. Given the global presence and penetration of US banks, this potentially casts a net around every mainstream financial institution in the world, with each needing to understand how this labyrinthine regulation affects them.

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In its recent half yearly market update for 2013, recruitment firm Robert Walters said that “[…] hiring within the risk sector saw a high demand for candidates with extremely niche skill sets.”

In Singapore, various risk qualifications are issued  by organisations such as the Professional Risk Managers’ International Association. However, unlike many other segments of the financial services sector, such as auditing and accounting, certification is not essential to get a job in risk and compliance, says Christina Ng, associate director, financial services and legal at Robert Walters Singapore.

“Certification to a large extent is not the key priority,” she says. “It’s good to have, but it’s never a must. Knowledge of Dodd-Frank, FATCA and Basel III is the key skill set. A lot of it is just getting your hands dirty – reading and understanding the policy regulations in Asia, and having the experience, more than anything else.”

And given the huge demand for risk and compliance specialists, recruiters are even willing to forgo local knowledge of specific country legislation in Asia.

“What we’ve learned is […] don’t panic if you don’t have the specific country skill set, it’s not a problem,” says Tony Bego, director of career services at Ivey Business School Hong Kong, and a former recruiter for Goldman Sachs and other banks. “It’s [about] the depth of [knowledge] you’ve got and where you’ve come from. That’s what they’re really looking for. They’ll teach you the [other] stuff.”

Firms and recruiters are looking to the UK and the US, where many of the regulations originated and where recruiters say the highest levels of professional expertise is found.

“Countries with emerging compliance cultures will look to the US on how to build up their rules,” said a senior manager working in risk and compliance at a global bank in Hong Kong. “A vice president who has covered a couple of areas and who has been in the business for seven or eight [years] should be very sought after. I also think where they were working makes a big difference as well – first-rate firms with relevant compliance functions will generally be better than more senior guys from questionable outfits.”

Overseas candidates who have worked in Asia before are in highest demand, says Ng.

“It’s the international exposure – they’ve been in Asia, gone back to HQ or their home office, and they have that group policy knowledge. They are able to see all global aspects of risk and bring that over to Asia.”

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