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Four financial services firms expanding in Asia right now

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Headcounts are now being planned for next year and some financial services firms are talking up their hiring in expanding Asian markets, in theory embedding confidence in their brand in the minds of aspiring candidates.

This usually involves wheeling out a regional chief executive to make growth-related comments in the Singapore and Hong Kong media. Mizuho did last month and other firms, including the four below, have more recently followed suit.

Beyond the positive propaganda, here’s what their Asian expansion strategies really mean for banking jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong in the current employment market.

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HSBC: expanding its corporate bank

HSBC is on the prowl for senior talent for its Asian corporate bank as it taps business from regional and international companies. The recent growth of bond markets is improving access to capital to fuel corporate expansion and HSBC has taken on 200 new corporate clients in Singapore this year alone, Joel Van Dusen, the bank’s global head of large corporates, told The Business Times in Singapore. “We’ll soon be announcing a number of senior hires in Asia in our business, many of whom you may know.”

While it remains unclear just who HSBC is about to hire, the firm is fishing in a small pond as other firms in Asia – including Citi, Standard Chartered and DBS – are also strengthening their corporate-banking leadership ranks, says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore.

Given the talent shortage, hiring managers in Asian corporate banking have a tendency to poach trusted staff from their previous employer. As we noted in July, ANZ’s expanding Asian ranks are now littered with former colleagues from Standard Chartered, Citi and HSBC itself. Van Dusen was the global head of corporate banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch before joining HSBC in late 2013. Recruiters expect BoAML will now be his chief hunting ground.

HSBC isn’t just recruiting at the leadership level, it’s also been bulking up its corporate-banking product and cash and trade sales teams in Singapore and Hong Kong, says Charania.

UOB: hiring across China

UOB, Singapore’s third largest bank, has been shouting about its expansion plans in China, where it is increasing its branch network from eight to 17 by year-end – including new offices in Chongqing and Suzhou – and focusing its funding activities on sectors such as oil and gas, telecommunications, transportation, F&B and property.

In China, however, attracting talent is “always a headache” for expanding foreign banks, especially when they are hiring in second-tier cities, says Shanghai-based Stephen He, a partner at Falcon Talent Consulting. He adds that most of UOB’s new recruits will be poached from other non-Chinese firms, but with senior managers transferred from headquarters in Singapore.

As a mid-tier foreign player in China, UOB will need to sell itself to candidates currently ensconced at bigger banks like Standard Chartered. “But at least it’s a relatively fresh brand in the market, which means there is a high possibility that new joiners can achieve their targets from scratch. That’s appealing to candidates,” adds He.

Credit Agricole: boosting its private bank

While Credit Agricole hasn’t made any precise headcount projections, Sen Sui, the Singapore chief executive of its private banking arm, has told The Business Times that the firm will expand its wealth business in Singapore and across Asia, on the back of a predicted rise in regional assets under management of 8% a year for the next 10 years.

Private banking headhunters, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirm that Credit Agricole Private Banking is looking to add to its current headcount of 35 relationship managers in Singapore, part of a total local workforce of about 100.

Needless to say, Credit Agricole faces huge competition in its drive for private bankers – other previously under-the-radar firms, including Maybank and RHB, are also expanding in the sector. “Credit Agricole has an average appeal to candidates in private banking to be honest. It’s had turnover recently and is not a very strong brand to sell in Asia, but it’s still a solid European bank,” says one headhunter.

VISA: hiring in fintech in Singapore

VISA is creating 185 new IT jobs in Singapore as it expands its technology hub there. Mobile solutions, data analytics, information security, research and development and technology-infrastructure roles will make up most of the Singaporean recruitment, which is part of a global campaign to take on 2,000 fintech staff.

“Mobile, data analytics and IT security are amongst the most in demand skill sets in the job market,” says Samantha Ding, a manager at recruiters Greythorn Banking in Singapore. “We are seeing a great deal of growth in the payments industry this year right across Asia.”

Most large banks in Singapore, however, aren’t recruiting heavily in fintech right now. “IT candidates in the banking sector are generally very open to exploring opportunities in other parts of financial services,” says Ding. “Visa has a strong brand name and shouldn’t struggle to attract top talent right now. But with more banks investing in channels-development and data-analytics projects, they can expect the job market to become more competitive over the next 12 to 18 months.”

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