Opportunity combined with desperation is forcing out-of-work bankers in the Asia-Pacific region to consider working in countries they had previously avoided.
The slowdown in financial services in the region has seen a number of people in support roles opting to relocate to offshore hubs such as India, Poland, Lithuania and South Africa – countries that previously they were not prepared to consider, especially when more attractive choices beckoned.
Kyle Blockley, partner at KS Consulting, says there was a time when middle and back-office bankers dismissed roles in countries that were perceived as hardship destinations due to their unappealing social problems and living conditions. Many emerging markets have economies characterised by stark income inequalities and high unemployment. This can pose problems with crime, unfamiliar living standards, and in some countries, difficulties securing work permits for working spouses.
“Bankers were also reluctant to relocate to countries that don’t have established expatriate communities. Employers struggled to fill senior roles with locals and downward pressures on costs, including ditching cushy expat packages, made it difficult to lure foreign talent from the major hubs.”
But, Blockley says, all that is now changed, and for employers, it is increasingly a buyer’s market. He has seen a number of candidates coming through his doors who have changed their tune about relocating to out-of-the-way markets, especially bankers in Singapore who have lost their jobs.
Singapore had once posed an attractive offshore hub, thanks to government benefits and incentives. But a rapid increase in costs across the board are forcing the big banks to scale down in Singapore, cutting jobs, and beef up other offshore hubs that previously struggled to attract senior talent.
“It’s a combination of opportunity and desperation for some people. For others, they have recognised that having international exposure is important if they want to get onto the senior management track and move up the corporate ladder, especially in those organisations where global experience is rated highly.”
Finian Toh, manager in the Banking & Finance Division of Robert Walters Singapore, says that the extent of the movement depends on the level of seniority. “With mainstream hubs such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and London being very mature financial markets, we are seeing a very saturated senior-level management talent pool. But at this level, we are seeing limited movement.”
Blockley says that another driver is the growing maturity of markets once viewed as emerging, low-cost destinations for banking operations. This has had particular implications for the job market in Singapore, which is no longer viewed as a low-cost centre.
“Even India, which became known as the main offshoring hub for support roles, has become increasingly expensive as the market has matured, so the focus is shifting shifted to places like Poland and Lithuania.”