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The pros and cons of being a career contractor in Asian banking

Contract

Banks in Singapore are abandoning their traditional reluctance to employing contractors and are increasingly using them to lead urgent projects and plug skill shortages in their operations, middle-office and technology departments.

Right now, however, most financial professionals in Singapore are taking on contract jobs in expectation of clinching a permanent offer at the end of their stint. So-called “career contractors” – who choose to constantly move from one contract job to another – remain rare in both Singapore and Hong Kong.

But as the contracting market continues to expand, this could be set to change. “We expect to see an increase in the number of ‘professional’ contractors who are attracted to the flexibility that contracting work can offer them,” says Stephanie Aglae, managing consultant, banking and financial services, at recruiters Ambition in Singapore.

If you’re thinking of becoming a career contractor in Singapore, here are some of the main pros and cons Share on twitter to be aware of.

Pros

Contract jobs now last longer…

Until recently contract stints in the Singaporean banking sector were typically very short term (three-month roles were common) – and having to search for work so frequently made it nearly impossible to be a career contractor. More long-term jobs (of up to a year) are now available, especially in functions such as financial control, accountancy, compliance and financial technology, says Chris Mead, regional director of Hays in Singapore.

…and the choice is wider

Contracting may be rare in the front-office, but outside of it the range of roles opening up in Singapore is expanding. “Contractors are now highly employable in Singapore – there are a lot of opportunities coming through and a wider variety of roles,” says Leanne Nettleship, manager, financial services contract, at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore.

Career progression is just around the corner

Being a contractor offers the possibility of achieving a healthy dose of career progression, which (as our survey last year pointed out) is the number-one factor influencing the decision-making of job-seekers in Singapore. “You’re extremely unlikely to feel stale or trapped when working as a professional contractor as your next challenge is generally just a few months away,” says Aglae.

It’s all about the lifestyle

Employers in Asia are often intolerant of candidates who apply for permanent positions after taking a lifestyle-driven career break – but they care far less about the break if the role on offer is a contract one. “Being a contractor can provide a flexibility of lifestyle that those in permanent employment can only dream of,” says Aglae. “You can work for six months on a project and then take several months off to spend time with family, travel or study.”

A break from BAU

Contracts in Singapore are often task-orientated or project-lead roles, which can be “more interesting and challenging than business-as-usual jobs”, says Nettleship. “You can demonstrate the ability to go into any new project and quickly get up to speed with systems and processes to add value almost immediately.”

A speedy way to build skills

With every role they take on, career contactors are constantly adding new skills to their CV. “Each assignment can provide opportunities to broaden a candidate’s expertise, expose them to new industries and diversify their skills and experience, which will make them more attractive and employable in future,” says Mead from Hays.

Cons

A return to perm may not be easy

If you decide you want a permanent position after a long stint as a career contractor in Singapore, your job search may be tricky. “In Singapore, banks may perceive you as ‘jumpy’ or question why other companies didn’t convert you into a permanent employee – this is simply because career contractors are not common here yet,” explains Nettleship from Robert Walters.

The pay is only on par

Unless you’re taking on a senior project-management role in a skill-short sector, don’t expect to make more money than your permanent peers, and don’t expect that to change for the foreseeable future. “Salaries tend to be on par with permanent roles and not inflated as they would be in more mature contract markets,” says Nettleship.

You’re bereft of any tax benefits

“The main reason why career contracting isn’t that popular in Singapore is the low rate of income tax here,” says Aglae from Ambition. “In the UK, for example, someone who does regular contract assignments can work under their own limited company and pay significantly less income tax. In Singapore, this benefit doesn’t apply as contractors are just subject to the same low income tax as permanent employees.”

Mind your medical

“Those on short-term contracts rarely receive company benefits such as medical insurance,” says Mead. “This can be a major issue for staff in Singapore as health care be very expensive. For this reason, most prefer longer-term contracts as they are more likely to receive medical cover.”

Contracts aren’t great for foreign candidates

“If an expatriate is on a contract and they can’t get an extension or another role, they must leave Singapore within a month of the contract expiring,” says Mead. “As housing in Singapore often requires tenants to commit to a two-year rental, foreign candidates tend to prefer the security of a permanent position.”


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