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The relationship manager job now in high demand in Singapore and Hong Kong

RM boom

The bigger the clients, the better the relationship manager job – right? Well, not necessarily in Asia right now.

Corporate banks are increasingly focusing on selling products to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Asia – firms with annual sales of between US$10m and $500m. The revenues that SME companies generate for banks could rise from US$150bn in 2010 to more than $350bn by 2015, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company.

SME relationship managers (RMs) based in Singapore and Hong Kong are in demand as banks look to service SMEs in these cities and in near-by emerging markets like China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, says Anita Sim, head of financial services at recruitment company AYP Associates in Singapore.

Last month Citi announced plans to hire 100 new SME-focused bankers across Asia.

“It’s very competitive in the SME segment,” says Norman Leung, senior consultant, banking and financial services, at recruiters Hudson in Singapore. “The number of these corporates has grown significantly in Asia and global banks like Citi, HSBC, Standard Chartered and ANZ – as well as the Asian banks – are all concentrating on this client segment.”

“Asian SMEs have scope to grow into larger companies and banks are looking to support their financing and working-capital needs over the long term. It’s beneficial for banks to get in early and groom their SMEs,” adds Leung.

Why it’s hard to hire for SME relationship manager jobs

The candidate pool for SME relationship manager jobs is small in both Hong Kong and Singapore. Banks want to recruit RMs with a track record in the sector, a “ready client base” and the ability to harness new clients, says Sim from AYP. Strong credit-analysis skills are another prerequisite as RMs need to prepare credit proposals.

“SME relationship managers tend to be transactional oriented – they market loans, FX and trade finance – so they have to be strong in treasury products and trade finance,” adds Sim.

The average salary range for senior RMs is US$145 to $240k in Singapore and US$115k to $190k in Hong Kong, according to a salary survey from Robert Walters. As a result of the skill shortage of relationship managers in both cities, banks are prepared to offer pay increases of 20% or more to new recruits, says Leung.

It’s “tough” for banks to retain their SME relationship managers, he adds. “Compared with RMs in the large-corporate space, SME bankers move jobs more often during their careers.”

RMs used to dealing with multi-national corporations (MNCs) or state-owned enterprises (SOEs) who want to move into SME jobs should first understand that the nature of the relationships they need to forge is markedly different.

“With SMEs, you often deal directly with a single business owner and you understand their goals – you can make a big impact on the growth of the company,” explains Leung from Hudson. “But with MNCs and SOEs, you need to understand who the several various key decision makers are and get a grasp of political and sovereign risk.”

It’s not just client-facing roles that are opening up as a result of banks in Asia targeting business from SMEs. Job in credit risk, credit administration, trade products, FX-liability products, anti-money laundering and know-your-customer are also in demand.


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The expanding Aussie bank now boosting its hiring in Hong Kong and Singapore

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