As banks in London and Europe grapple with the fallout from Brexit, Hong Kong and Singapore are suddenly looking like more attractive locations to work in.
But while headhunters in the two cities are fielding more calls from London finance professionals, demand for their talents remains fairly weak and limited to certain (mainly middle-office) job sectors.
If you’re a candidate from London – or any Western finance centre – your job search in Asia is likely to be challenging. This is what you need to do to get an edge on the competition.
Try to move with your current firm. If you’re an overseas candidate and an unknown quantity, you present two sets of risk to a bank. “I moved regions because I was with the same bank. Going to Asia with a new employer, who is flooded with resumes of people with direct experience in the region, is a long shot,” says fintech CEO Tanmai Sharma, who previously relocated to Singapore with Deutsche Bank.
“I managed to move to Hong Kong eight years ago, two months after Bear Stearns declared bankruptcy – it was chaotic, similar to this post-Brexit situation,” says Laurence Fauchon, a former quant BNP Paribas who now runs a domestic helper website. “But I’d already wanted to move, so I’d already networked internally – my team head convinced senior management in Hong Kong to open a new headcount. Be aware of the needs of your department, so you can network with the relevant people and be the first to apply for an Asian position.”
Foreigners who get jobs in Asia usually show “a genuine interest in international business and cultures”, says Russell Graham, a former Singapore-based head of solution delivery at Standard Chartered, now a partner at banking consultancy SkyTxB. “This means more than watching CNN or ‘travelling extensively for vacation’ – it means understanding your bank’s international capabilities; engaging in any cross-cultural forums at your bank; and volunteering for short-term overseas assignments.”
Foreign candidates are typically hired into Asia to immediately plug skill shortages, not so they can make career changes that require banks to train them. “Make sure you’re eyeing a role where you have previous experience and relevant skills,” says Aditya Haripurkar, who moved to Singapore in 2007 to join Barclays and is now an entrepreneur. “Looking at your CV, the hiring manager should have no doubt on your competency for the role.”
If a job in Asia isn’t opening up at your bank, you should head out there to see recruiters. “This shows a good level of commitment to the move,” says a senior HR manager at a global bank in Singapore. “Meet with three or four recruitment consultants – don’t overdo it – who specialise in your area. And if possible, also meet with internal recruiters at the banks, and friends and ex-colleagues who work in Asia. You’ll make a more memorable impression by networking face to face.”
Your initial trip to Asia might not be very long, so make the most of it. “Have a focused networking approach,” says Haripurkar. “Don't waste time networking at generic meetups; select the events where you’ll meet people who might actually help you secure a job in your field. If you’re in asset management, for example, attend a CFA event.”
“If you get a job interview in Asia, be slightly more confident about your achievements than you would in the West,” says Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong industrial psychologist and former head of selection at Standard Chartered. “In Hong Kong we don’t love you until we know you, so sell yourself and your talents. But don’t be over confident. Tell us what you know, but also tell us how that’s relevant to the local market.”
Whatever else you do in an interview, make sure your answers demonstrate some personal and professional knowledge of Asia and a long-term commitment to staying there. “Read the local press and speak to people you know who live there. Even the smallest anecdote about Singapore or Hong Kong could add value in an interview,” says Nick Wells, a partner at headhunters Alicorn Chase in Singapore.
If you’re on a verge of a job offer in Asia don’t put it at risk by negotiating too strongly. While most banks will give you a one-off relocation deal (flights, a short-term serviced apartment and shipping of household goods), don’t insist on one. An ‘expat package’ (i.e. rent and school fees) is out of the question. “Be flexible if you want a banking job in Asia,” says the HR manager. “Even if you’re getting about the same net income as at home, you'll be gaining valuable work and life experience.”
If a bank in Asia wants to make a costly and risky overseas hire, the role may well be one that needs filling urgently. “Be ready to move on a month’s notice,” says the HR manager. “If you ask for two or three months you could actually kill the deal. Even if this means you fly out here first and your partner follows later, being ready to go on short notice is key to being considered alongside local candidates.”
Struggling to find a banking job in Asia? Start up a company instead. “Asia, in particular Singapore, is a great place to do this, says Dominic Gamble, a former Deutsche Bank banker who now runs fintech firm wealthinasia.com. “The entrepreneur community here is multinational and has government backing. Singapore is particularly good for fintech, biotech and consumer tech start-ups.”