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Is internal mobility a myth in the finance sector? 

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Financial services may be a large, global industry offering a plethora of radically different roles, but employers in the sector aren’t making it easy for staff to change job functions or locations.

While many financial professionals are interested in transferring to a new position within their current company, only in Singapore do more than half (61%) of survey respondents say that their firm has an internal-mobility regime in place to facilitate such a move, says the eFinancialCareers Career Satisfaction & Retention Survey. In the US and Australia, the figure is barely over a third, while in the UK and Hong Kong it’s 43% and 49% respectively.

Aware of internal mobility

“The financial services industry and global banks in particular have been heavily challenged by an increasing focus on both efficiency and cost cutting, and also on compliance,” says Keith Pogson, EY managing partner for banking and capital markets, Asia Pacific. “The cost focus has generally not enhanced mobility programmes, while an increase in regulation has acted as a brake on mobility as individuals may require approval to be located in a particular market.”

Recent redundancies in the global finance sector have also hampered internal mobility, making employees more likely to value the stability of their current job over a risky transfer, especially an international one. “They have become slightly more wary of taking roles in other locations unless it is clear how this can strengthen their chances of retention,” says Pogson.

Despite this trend, the eFinancialCareers survey suggests that many financial professionals are still keen on moving internally. When asked whether they would consider another position with their current employers, less than a third of respondents across all five countries said they would rule out the possibility.

Consider another postion

Middle-office movers

If you thought internal mobility was the preserve of the jet-setting front-office elite, think again. Frontoffice survey respondents are actually the least likely to say that their firm offers them internal mobility, according to the survey.

Awareness of mobility is higher in the back and middle office. In the latter category, for example, a comparatively high proportion of respondents – UK (59%), US (48%), Singapore (74%), Hong Kong (51%) and Australia (44%) – say their firm has a programme in place.

Talent shortages are often most acute in finance, regulatory and risk roles, so banks are more inclined to encourage their middle office staff to change functions to meet business needs – compliance professionals shifting into internal audit is a recent example we’ve highlighted. Skills can be more generic and transferable within mid-office functions, whereas it’s more difficult for internal transferees to pick up the sector knowledge and client relationships required in the front office.

“In positions like audit or compliance, it’s a relatively risk-free move. There will be some different products, but overall the learning curve won’t be that steep,” says Craig Brewer, a director at recruiters Five Ten Group. “If you’re in sales or client-relationship management, however, particularly if you want to move country, the prospect of gaining an internal move is far tougher.”

The survey also suggests that financial institutions aren’t doing enough to promote internal mobility programmes, with between 17% (in Singapore) and 31% (in Australia) of respondents globally not sure whether one is even in place at their company.

“Internal mobility programmes depend on the culture of the organisation,” says Pogson from EY. “In some, roles are just advertised internally, followed by interviews. But in others taking ownership of your own career is actively encouraged and frank dialogues with bosses or mentors are appropriate. Stronger managers will clearly understand the benefits of sharing skills and building internal networks that comes from internal mobility.”

Better in Asia?

Survey respondents in Singapore and Hong Kong had a higher awareness of the company’s internal mobility programmes than their counterparts in the UK, US and Australia. “Internal mobility is more visible in Asia as external candidate pools tend to be shallower and so companies want to retain staff through clearly defined career paths and opportunities to build new skills,” says Fraser Douglas, managing consultant, banking, finance and accounting at recruiters Links International in Hong Kong.

“The establishment of shared service centres in Asia is also a factor,” says Pogson, who is based in Hong Kong. “Skills are often centralised into centres of excellence, which may lead to initial relocation but they become localised reasonably rapidly.”

DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, is among the firms encouraging its staff to move internally, via programmes such as “2+2” for junior staff. “Once they have worked two years in their role, they can enquire about the possibility of a transfer. Once this is finalised, it will take place within two months. For senior employees, it’s a ‘3+3’ programme, where they would need to have worked at least three years and the transfer takes place within three months,” explains Yin Fong Lum, managing director of global transaction services, cash and trade, at DBS in Singapore.

Related articles:
The real reasons why finance professionals in Asia are changing jobs right now
A ranking of the top 20 ‘ideal’ financial services employers
Financial services employees are surprisingly happy, except in the Middle East

Click on the thumbnails below to view survey infographics for the US, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

US infographic

US infographic

UK infographic

UK infographic

Hong Kong infographic

Hong Kong infographic

Singapore infographic

Singapore infographic

Australia infographic

Australia infographic

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