Adrian Quek, a senior developer at DBS in Singapore, arrives at the bank’s office in Changi Business Park around 9am most days. By 6pm he’s out the door and by 6.30pm he’s back home. Front-office banking professionals might only enjoy these type of hours on the occasional Friday, but for Quek (not his real name) they are normal.
DBS isn’t the only bank in Asia that gives its technologists reasonable hours. Charles Hsiao (we’ve used pseudonyms throughout this report), who works for Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong as a senior Java developer, leaves work by 7pm at the latest, while Paul Ruan from UOB’s tech unit in Singapore clocks off by 6.30pm unless he has an urgent project on the go. “Because technology teams are now increasingly needed and respected at banks, senior management are giving us more reasonable working hours and project timelines,” says Hsiao.
Work doesn’t typically spill over into the weekends for the techies we spoke with. Quek has to work about one Saturday or Sunday a month, while for Hsiao it’s only once a year on average. Ruan says he’s “seldom” in the office outside of weekdays.
Technologists like Ruan, who joined UOB in 2015 and has a background in machine learning, are in high demand at global and local banks in Hong Kong and Singapore, which now find themselves competing for talent with startups and tech companies. In a hot job market, banks that push techies too hard may find that they soon start looking for a new employer, say recruiters.
Astrid Fong, an algo trading specialist who now works for a US bank in Hong Kong, is a case in point. She recently left UBS partly because she was coming into work most weekends. “People kept leaving my team, so I ended up doing more weekend-rota work,” she says. “I hated this because of the hours and also because the weekend tasks were boring – support and maintenance stuff rather than development. So I just moved on to another bank where the hours were better.”
Belying the stereotype that developers actually enjoy coding late into the night, Goldman programmer Hsiao says reasonable working hours are one of his “top requirements” when choosing a new job. “Work-life balance is an important factor for me,” he adds.
The four technologists we spoke with don’t believe tech firms like Google, Grab, or Alibaba offer better hours than banks. “I feel that pure tech companies have a much younger and more vibrant office environment, which might make life there more enjoyable, but I don’t think they work you any less hard,” says Quek from DBS.
While technologists at banks in Asia aren’t working long hours, they aren’t necessarily working flexibly. Ruan from UOB says she’s never worked from home during her three-year banking career. “Working from home isn’t an option in my role,” adds Quek. “I require access to the bank’s servers and that isn’t allowed from home due to our security protocol.” Hsiao’s job at Goldman, by contrast, is focused on coding, some of which can be done away from the office. “If I can arrange it with my teammates in advance, flexible working isn’t a problem,” he says.
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