Singapore’s finance sector may not be expanding at the rapid rate of recent years, but certain banking careers have been singled out by the country's Deputy Prime Minister as having a prosperous future.
Speaking at a recent Institute of Banking and Finance event, Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that jobs growth in financial services was slowing down in Singapore. About 5,000 new jobs were created in the sector for each of 2012 and 2013, compared with about 10,000 a year in both 2010 and 2011.
He added that the finance jobs now being created were mainly “complex” ones, including roles in these four functions: portfolio management and investment analysis, product structuring, technology, and risk management.
Risk is an obvious choice and we’ve already highlight its hotness on several occasions this year. But what of the other three careers deemed to be in demand? We’ve spoken to specialist recruiters to find out why these sectors are expanding in Singapore and what sort of skills you will need to build a successful career in them.
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Portfolio management and investment analysis
Singapore is the world’s fastest growing wealth management hub and demand for portfolio managers, at both traditional and alterative funds, is increasing as a result. “With a rising number of sophisticated clients to serve, there is also a need for more value-added services and investment analysis,” says Annie Yap, MD of search firm AYP Asia Group in Singapore.
“Investors in Asia are becoming less conservative and want better profits from the same capital invested. This is driving the requirements for hiring – there is a human-capital race on,” says Nicholas Wells, managing director of search firm Webber Chase in Singapore. “Success in portfolio management is all about your track record. If you have proven and demonstrable returns from a reputable firm, you will get hired.”
CFA chaterholders also have a distinct career advantage in Singaporean portfolio management, says Ignatius Goh, consultant, financial services, at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore. “An analytical person with the ability to articulate their own macro views of the global financial environment will also see more opportunities,” he adds.
At a graduate level, funds in Singapore target those with degrees in business, finance, economics, accounting or mathematics, says Yap from AYP. A Masters degree in areas like applied finance and financial engineering will give you an extra edge. “Portfolio managers need to come up with the right mix of portfolios for clients and hence need strong financial-modelling skills,” she adds. “Presentation skills are vital to remain successful in the industry as meeting clients and doing portfolio presentations are part of the daily job.”
Global banks have spent the past two years offshoring non-business critical IT functions away from Singapore and into lower-cost locations. “But at the same time they are further investing in business-critical IT roles in Singapore that will provide efficiencies and competitive advantages,” says Singapore-based Marc Richardson, group regional director, Asia Pacific, at IT recruiters iKas.
There is ongoing hiring for IT projects, in particular those focused on security, compliance, big data and the consolidation and optimisation of trading platforms. Mobile-banking expertise is also hotly sought after. “A number of banks are initiating digital- and mobile-banking programmes, resulting in increased demand for tech staff with relevant skills and commercial experience,” says Richardson.
The ideal candidate for a mobile-banking role has experience in digital/mobile technologies, payments, multi-device applications and architectures, and UX/UI design and development, adds Richardson. “As banking is somewhat behind the industry leaders in the mobile space, a lot of the talent sits outside the sector – at credit card and payment firms, mobile operators and social media companies. The typical soft skills in mobile banking are the same as in most other business-facing technology positions: the ability to effectively manage stakeholder expectations, work across multiple business units, and lead and influence successful outcomes.”
Product-structuring skills are in demand as Asian investors become more sophisticated and financial institutions try to differentiate themselves by offering more bespoke products, says Rachel Liu, an associate director at Profile Search & Selection in Singapore. “Investors want a broader skill set from their service providers, so offering innovative product ideas demonstrates an in-depth understanding of their needs.”
While there is still scant demand for exotic derivative-product experts in the wake of the financial crisis, banks in Singapore need people who can adapt off-the-shelf products to fit a client’s non-standard requirements, says Wells from Webber Chase. “Margins have been very tight across commercial, institutional and retail banking, so being able to tailor-make a product and increase the profit line, even by a small percentage, has make this a good career to be in.”
Technical and execution skills are no longer enough to succeed in product structuring. “These days you must be flexible and take into consideration a lot more cross-border and regulatory issues,” explains Liu. “The need for excellent communication and problem-solving skills is even more pertinent now as you navigate through a maze of complicated internal and external buy-ins for each product. There are often no straightforward solutions to each request because clients do not necessarily always know exactly what they want themselves. The challenge often lies in being creative without hurting the organisation.”
Product structuring isn’t an easy field to break into. “The majority of candidate searches in this sector are highly niche, linked entirely to recent rather than historical successes,” says Wells.