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Job applications to Singaporean banks surge 30%. Here’s why

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Banking professionals in Singapore are sending their CVs in increasing numbers to the city state’s three home-grown banks, DBS, OCBC and UOB. Recruiters say they are now receiving about 20% to 30% more applications to vacancies at Singaporean banks  Share on twitterthan they were a year ago – a surge out of kilter with the banking job market generally.

But why are local banks becoming more appealing to job seekers? After all, they offer limited international mobility outside of Asia, remain relatively minor players in Asian investment banking, and their salaries don’t exceed those of foreign competitors.

Recruiters and HR professionals who’ve spoken to finance professionals about their job-seeking motivations in recent weeks reveal the real reasons why Singaporean banks are on their radar.

Fewer jobs at foreign banks

Many candidates are telling recruiters that they are now questioning the commitment of foreign banks to their Asian businesses (think, job cuts at Standard Chartered and the potential sale of Asian assets by RBS). “Asia is a key driver of global economic growth and a lot of professionals in Singapore are looking to banks that offer great opportunities in this region,” says Stephanie Liew, an associate director at recruiters LMA in Singapore. “While some international banks are focusing more on their home markets, Singaporean banks are increasingly going regional with their businesses.” 

The excitement of an emerging sector

“Candidates often say they’re looking at new business areas – the frontiers that Singaporean banks are now moving towards,” says Anita Sim, head of financial services at recruitment firm AYP Associates in Singapore. Wealth management is one of these. OCBC’s Bank of Singapore unit was only created in 2010, when the firm acquired ING’s Asian private bank, but is now among Asia’s most expansionist private banks and hired 100 staff in 2014 alone. Similarly, DBS is now a strong force in the sector following its acquisition last year of Societe Generale’s regional private banking operations.

Previous talent attraction

Singaporean banks are keen to talk up their commitment to growing their own talent from local graduate recruitment. But the fact that their ranks are also now increasingly filled with staff who’ve had previous stints at international firms is a far more important motivating factor for most candidates. “Having experienced senior people from big foreign banks in their workforce gives the impression that the Singaporean banks are committed to further expansion,” says Sim.

Training and development improvements

Singaporean banks have recently made efforts to catch up with their foreign counterparts in the training and development stakes and candidates have started to take notice. Last year, for example, DBS launched personalised “learning roadmaps” to enable employees to assess their individual career progression and get a clear idea of what training best suits their role and seniority, says Theresa Phua, Singapore head of human resources at DBS. “We also recognise the importance of tapping digital avenues to enhance learning, hence our employees can also learn on the go with our mobile-learning platforms.”

Big fish syndrome

“A mid-career banker joining a local bank after being ‘trained’ by, say, Citi for 10 years is like a big fish joining a smaller pond,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm The Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. “People like that tend to differentiate themselves at the local bank – they’re accorded higher visibility and if they perform well they get good progression opportunities, which they may not have got had they stayed at the global firm.”

Head-office jobs

Many candidates, especially senior ones, are drawn to working at banks whose headquarters aren’t multiple time zones away. “Proximity to group heads generally increases ease of getting decisions made,” says Kuek. “This is a boon for a candidate’s work-flow, especially for front-liners who are originating business with clients.”

Financial stability

All three Singaporean banks were rated in the top-20 safest banks in the world by Global Finance in 2014. “Candidates are attracted by their healthy profits, large deposit bases and the balance sheets driving their corporate businesses,” says Sherry Zerh, associate director, financial services, at search firm Kerry Consulting in Singapore.

Immunity from offshoring

Foreign banks continue to offshore back-office jobs away from Singapore, but local firms are unlikely to follow suit given the public and political outcry this would cause. “Singapore banks are perceived to be ‘iron rice bowls’ – less known to fire their staff at will or restructure their businesses,” says Zerh.

Nurture the next generation

“I’ve seen this cited by senior Singaporean bankers who’ve been at a global bank their entire career: they want to join a local one to contribute their expertise and ‘give back’. They want to nurture the next generation of Singaporean talent in their area and embark on a more meaningful and purposeful role,” says Kuek from Meyer Consulting.


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