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Escape winter but still work in finance: hot 2015 jobs in sunny APAC cities

Work in the sun

Fancy never having to face another freezing commute to the office in mid-winter London or New York? Or perhaps you’re sick of stressful Singapore but still want to work where the weather is always warm?

If your New Year’s resolution is to live in a tropical Asia Pacific locale and escape the pressure of a major financial centre, it is (just about) still possible to make the move and keep working in a banking job. But be warned: you are likely to be trading more sun for less money, and expat job opportunities won’t match those in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Still keen to go? Here are the major trends set to shape the employment market in three sunny APAC cities. Share on twitter

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Weather trends: A tropical rainforest climate with little variation in monthly temperatures (it’s in the early 30s Celsius most days). While the wettest season is November to March, heavy downpours are common throughout the year.

Career trends: Genuine expansion of the banking sector; expats should look for product-development jobs or managerial roles.

Banking in Kuala Lumpur is enjoying a renaissance as the city cements its position as an Islamic finance hub Share on twitter. Asia’s “big three” global corporate banks – HSBC, Citi and Standard Chartered – are hiring in the KL, as are less obvious players like Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. Meanwhile, three Malaysian banks – RHB Capital, CIMB Group and MBSB – are merging next year to create a “powerhouse” regional bank, the fourth largest in Southeast Asia.

Banks in KL are trying to tap an expanding client base – and not just in Islamic finance. “The growth of the Malaysian middle class, the growth of local small and medium-sized enterprises and the continued expansion of multinationals in Malaysia continues,” says Steve Parkes, director of recruiters Michael Page in Kuala Lumpur. “This has all contributed to the need for more banking professionals – front, middle and back office – which will last long into 2015. Relationship managers and internal auditors are in particular demand.”

Banks such as Standard Chartered – via its Scope global technology and operations subsidiary – have been building operations hubs in Malaysia, supported by the Multimedia Development Corporation, a government body which fosters the development of shared-services centres. “There’s a combination of new hires and replacements in shared services. And as the market matures banks will also want to hire more in operational and enterprise risk management,” says Parkes.

Malaysia isn’t as open to foreign talent as nearby Singapore, however. Budding expats are advised to concentrate on managerial positions in back-office hubs and those focused on complex financial products. The good news is that successful transfers to KL often involve significant steps-up in seniority and responsibility, such as a promotion into a regional role, Muzamir Raja-Ahmad, manager of front-office banking at Robert Walters Malaysia, told us earlier this year.

Perth, Australia

Weather trends: There may be more finance jobs in Sydney and Melbourne, but Perth is a better bet for year-round sun. Even during the city’s short mid-year “winter” the average temperature is between 18°C and 21°C – but right now it’s summer, so expect the day-time high to frequently top 30°C.

Career trends: Financial planning is booming; foreign candidates need to get ASIC-qualified before applying.

Yes, it is possible to be an investment banker in Perth: Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Macquarie and UBS all have (small) offices in the Western Australian capital. But the local mining boom – Chinese demand for Western Australian raw materials drove Goldman to set up shop in Perth in 2012 – has been petering out over the past couple of years. So too has hiring at the investment banks. “We’ve experienced very little recruitment demand in the global investment-banking/equities space recently and in fact, seasoned professionals from the sector have been looking for a career change,” says Chris Kent, regional director of recruiters Hays in Western Australia.

The most sought-after finance careers in Perth are now in financial planning. That doesn’t mean you have to work for a small outfit – Australia’s “big four” banks, ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac, all employ financial planners, as do large wealth managers like AMP. The sector has been suffering from fresh talent shortages since the introduction of the government’s Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms last year, which impose more onerous standards on fin planners.

“With many firms working towards having all their fin-planning staff degree qualified by 2019, we are seeing new job opportunities emerge in Perth due to senior planners leaving,” explains Kent. “All major lenders and most boutique firms are now looking for the next generation of degree-qualified staff – there are a number of high-volume recruitment campaigns.”

However, even if you have a degree and have worked in a financial advisory role in another country, you must first meet the minimum training requirements set by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in its RG146 regulation.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Weather trends: It’s hot and humid all the time in Jakarta. The average temperature is about 28°C in both January and July, but watch out for flooding in the city during the December-to-March monsoon.

Career trends: Middle-office boom spreads to front office; come home if you’re Indonesian; foreign candidates should be senior.

A “stabilising economy” is creating a “safer market” for foreign corporate banks to expand, says Erika Sangkaen, consultant, banking and financial services, at recruiters Robert Walters Indonesia. US and European banks with offices in Jakarta include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citi, Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan and Standard Chartered – Japanese, Chinese, Australian and Singaporean firms also have a presence. “In 2014, we saw strong demand for compliance and operational risk professionals, who were required to set up more compliant and safer business structures. In 2015, we foresee more growth in the front office as banks look to grow their businesses, especially in distribution and sales roles.”

Outside the front office there’s demand in technology, operations, project management, operational risk and KYC. “This is due to the implementation of many process improvements projects and stricter compliance and operational controls,” says Sangkaen.

Overseas nationals are advised to seek an internal transfer with a global or regional bank at a managerial level. But while people with multinational leadership experience in banking are thin on the ground in Jakarta, most rank-and-file jobs are reserved for Indonesians. “Hiring managers here face a limited candidate pool and there’s a strong need to hire overseas-based Indonesians,” says Sangkaen. “Local rules are making it a challenge for banks to obtain work visas and lack of market and regulatory knowledge, especially in the areas of accounting and compliance, further tightens the candidate pool.”


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