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Banks in Asia jilt expat juniors

The days of twenty-something expats living it up in Singapore and Hong Kong may be numbered as banks clamp down on hiring juniors from overseas.

Back in 1995, a 27-year-old Nick Leeson was drinking merrily at Harry’s Bar in Singapore’s financial district and trading his way towards the collapse of Barings Bank. A foreign trader of a similar age today would be lucky to snag a job in Asia in the first place.

“Current global economic conditions mean companies aren’t looking overseas for juniors, as was the case before the financial crisis,” said Mark Enticott, managing director of recruitment firm Ambition in Hong Kong.

Budding young expats are also being rejected for front-office positions because they don’t have regional clients and don’t speak Mandarin, a language which is becoming more important for jobs in Hong Kong. In the back-office, banks want to offshore jobs to low-cost markets like India and the Philippines, not employ expensive foreigners in Singapore and Hong Kong.

In Singapore, even when companies want to hire juniors from abroad, the Ministry of Manpower, a government department, is making it tougher for them to get work visas, said Annie Yap, managing director of Singapore headhunters AYP Asia Group.

To address public concerns about Singapore’s dependence on overseas labour, the government announced in February 2013 that it would curb companies hiring foreign employees. Details of the plans have not been finalised, but employers will need to give “fair consideration” to Singaporeans when they hire.

Recruiters in Singapore said junior overseas candidates would find it more difficult than their senior counterparts to get visas. “That’s mainly because they don’t offer the specialised skills that these days can be acquired more easily locally,” said Farida Charania, chief executive of Singapore search firm Nastrac.

Banks in the city-state are making extra efforts this year to hire locals. “Growing and grooming the pipeline of local talent is an important priority,” said Moira Roberts, head of human resources, UBS Singapore.

How to get hired

There are still some job functions were young international candidates are being hired in Asia. Demand remains high for candidates in quantitative analytics, market risk and front-office software development, said Gerard Milligan, strategic account director at recruitment agency Randstad in Singapore. “Foreign-based job seekers who can demonstrate a mix of technology and business experience are highly valued in Singapore,” he added.

John Mullally, associate director, financial services, at recruitment agency Robert Walters in Hong Kong said junior foreigners were limited to roles where language and client relationships weren’t so important. “For example, there is still demand for actuaries in insurance companies and investment consultancies,” he said.

Mullally said an internal transfer was the easiest way for juniors to find work in Asia. “If that’s not possible, come to Asia in person and spend time networking and meeting with recruitment firms and prospective employers. There is no shortcut to this,” he added.

Comments (7)

  1. All this is quite logical: why would you hire somebody who is more expensive and can’t bring you anything due to his/her lack of experience? You can find millions of Juniors in Asia, and young expats will also often tend to think they are the real thing…

  2. Perhaps time to get rid of all Asians in Europe? Reciprocity should be the guiding principle.

  3. It is more difficult to get hired as an expat in Asia at the moment, but its more to do with a tight local market rather than any skill shortages from candidates. Expats with recent knowledge gained abroad of the credit cycle would be able to add a great deal to an Asian bank at the moment, much more than an identikit candidate who’s chief claim to the job is that they can speak Mandarin. Although an Asian language is nice to have, it is not essential for most banking jobs in Asia, its just used a way of filtering out candidates.

    Also, recruiters in Asia are much, much worse than in London, they tend to be cv pingers and I’ve met only a couple who actually have proper relationships with clients to the extent that they have any influence whatsoever in the hiring process. The Asian market is much more reliant on the individual job seeker having good connections with banks, obviously as an expat its harder to do this, but it doesn’t mean the expats lack skills. Several local banks in Asia don’t really hire expats at all, so the market for expats is smaller.

    Positions tend to take longer to be filled in Asia too as banks will wrongly wait for the perfect candidate rather than take someone on and train them up.

  4. Yep, Asians are protecting their own. It is Europeans who hire Asians for training and to take over their intellectual property. While leaving their own graduates stacking shelves at Tesco. For shame ….

  5. The trend is to offshore jobs in developed economies… Expats need to move towards low cost countries which still lack skillsets. Singapore is saturated.

  6. The trend is to offshore jobs in developed economies… Expats need to move towards low cost countries which still lack skillsets. Singapore is saturated.

  7. Perhaps time to get rid of all Asians in Europe? Reciprocity should be the guiding principle.

    You’re kidding me right? The difference is that in Asia there are hundreds of youngsters who’ve got education and experience the hard way and are actually DYING to work 12 hour days. In Europe, you have Asians who are willing to work their rears off, while new grads from Oxbridge and even run of the mill schools want to ‘get in and milk the connections’. Its totally logical that Europeans would hire Asian youngsters and move on with business! Get rid of them and you will lose the 0.01% growth that u manage to clock up

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