When we asked 10 banking recruiters in Hong Kong and Singapore to single out the job function that will be most sought-after this year, the result was surprising. Seven of them named a sector that suffered a slump in hiring in 2017 and 2018: compliance.
Compliance hiring at banks in the two cities hasn’t returned to its heady pre-2017 levels, but it is now stronger than during the past two years, say recruiters. There are caveats, however. You might need to work outside the bulge bracket, specialise in anti-money laundering (AML), improve your tech skills, or take a contract role (or all of these things).
“In Asia, the compliance job market has got off to a strong start in 2019, due to continually tighter regulatory requirements,” says Ian Yeung, a principal consultant at recruiters Selby Jennings in Hong Kong. AML specialists are the most “highly coveted” compliance professionals, says Grant Torrens, regional director of recruiters Hays in Singapore, adding that salaries are still rising in this field because of a small local talent pool. Recent senior AML hires include Kelvin Kairong Toh, who joined HSBC from OCBC as head of financial crime sanctions for Singapore.
How do you get a job in compliance?
Standard Chartered and HSBC dominated Asian compliance recruitment until about two years ago as they ramped up teams to work on urgent remedial projects. The two banks still have plenty of roles on offer. Stan Chart has 14 compliance openings in Singapore, its main hub in Asia, while HSBC has 30 in Hong Kong, where it bases many of its middle-office Asian staff. But other, smaller banks now have similar vacancy levels. OCBC has 15, while Bank of East Asia has 20, for example.
“Second-tier banks are now hiring experienced compliance professionals from first-tier firms. They can hit the ground running and bring best practices with them,” says Rick Chung, an associate director at recruiters Randstad in Hong Kong. “Regional banks are willing to offer candidates up to 25% pay rises,” he adds. VP-level compliance professionals in Hong Kong can earn HK$1.4m a year, according to the Michael Page salary survey, so this type of increase could net them an extra HK$350k.
If you want a new compliance job in Asia, you could also try applying to a private bank. Firms including UBS, Deutsche Bank and Julius Baer are increasing their headcount of relationship managers in Asia. They also need more governance staff to help onboard the clients of these newly hired RMs, and to ensure compliance with the Common Reporting Standard regulations, says Charlotte Chen, a recruitment consultant at Huxley in Singapore.
Compliance professionals increasingly need good tech skills as banks invest more in regulatory technology systems. Yeung from Selby Jennings expects a “hiring frenzy” in 2019 for people who can “effectively combine tech capabilities with strong compliance knowledge”. “This year will see a rapid increase in the use of regtech – particularly for transaction monitoring and data analytics – resulting in more demand for technologically adept project managers with compliance experience, often on a contract basis,” adds James Hickman, managing partner of Aquis Search.
Therein lies the rub if you work in compliance in Singapore or Hong Kong. Banks are often working project to project, and contract openings are now growing at a faster rate than permanent ones. Contract jobs (of between five and 12 months) make up 60% of OCBC’s current compliance vacancies, for example. Banks are hiring contractors with experience in AML, financial crime, regulatory reporting (e.g. Basel III), and MiFID, says Michael Nette, a director at recruiters Ambition in Singapore.
There’s good news if you’d rather get a promotion than join a new firm. Skill shortages in Asia mean banks are increasingly willing to retrain their current middle-office staff, and move them into critical functions such as AML, says Agnes Yee, a partner at Space Executive in Singapore.
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