According to a report from HSBC, Asian expats are among the best off in the world. And although there are now far fewer financial services openings for Westerners in the region than there used to be, a few opportunities do exist – providing you are willing to fund a trip to the region for interview, and can talk convincingly about why you want to move to Asia.
Even if you are able to find a job in one of the categories below, you are unlikely to become rich, however. Most of the jobs are in the middle or back office and in most cases expats are now hired on local packages.
1). Information technology
IT recruitment in Singapore remains one of the sectors least affected by the financial crisis, and there are opportunities for techies willing to relocate as banks like BNP Paribas and Barclays Capital look to grow their IT hubs in the city state.
“More than 80% of our IT banking perm placements made in Singapore and Hong Kong investment banks recently have been from UK and US candidates,” says Will Feint, principal consultant at recruiters Confero.
IT roles fall into two categories, he adds. The first requires specialist experience, for example on specific technical products that the bank hasn’t implemented yet. “For these types of products, there just aren’t the people within Singapore to fill the requirements and the only way they can get the resources is by looking overseas,” explains Feint.
Generalist techies, such as Java developers and Unix administrators are also often sourced from overseas, not because the talent doesn’t exist in Asia, but because candidates from New York and London can offer experience of working in larger, more complicated businesses environments.
2.) Transaction banking
Bread and butter banking is making a comeback and firms like Standard Chartered, ANZ, and Citigroup sometimes hire foreigners, especially in non-sales roles.
The product and supply-chain knowledge that London bankers bring to trade finance jobs is of particularly interest to banks in Asia, says Farida Charania, director at search firm Nastrac.
Within the cash management sector, senior product and implementation experts, with experience in the sophisticated London market, are in demand. “With Asia growing at a much faster rate than anticipated, the skill set available locally is just not enough to service the growing demand of companies in this region,” she adds.
3). Risk and compliance
UK and US-experienced product compliance or risk managers with extensive product knowledge are still in demand in Hong Kong, says Robert Conway, head of banking & finance at Talent2 in Hong Kong.
He adds: “Banks are still open to looking at fixed-income and equity compliance candidates from the UK or US because there is a bigger pool of candidates over there and the market is more mature. The same applies for professionals in market risk and quantitative/counterparty credit risk roles with extensive capital markets product knowledge.”
4). FSA regulatory reporting
Are experts in UK Financial Services Authority regulation really in demand in Singapore? Well, yes. With British banks such as Barclays Capital and RBS off shoring their production work to Singapore, there is a need for professionals with knowledge of UK reporting regulations.
“The local market generally has a good understanding of the MAS, but when it comes to reporting back to the Bank of England and FSA, there is definitely a skill shortage. We have been asked to source candidates from London who have an in depth knowledge of the FSA requirements and who can bring that knowledge to Singapore and train/transfer it to the new teams that are being built here,” says Kyle Blockley, director of KS Consulting.
5.) Change management
Asia is no stranger to the upheaval caused by deals like Nomura/Lehman Brothers and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. But while banking-sector consolidation led to layoffs in Singapore and Hong Kong in 2008 and earlier this year, it’s now starting to open up opportunities for senior change-management specialists. “For Western banks currently undergoing negotiations or already been acquired by Asian banks, a significant level of integration is needed and hiring Western bankers in Asia helps them to bridge the distance and understanding of the markets here,” says John Koh, managing partner of search firm WMRC.
6.) Product control
The cutting edge banking products developed in the City make London’s product controllers hot property in Singapore. There is still demand for qualified (ACA) accountants with a minimum of three years’ product control/accounting experience. Singapore is an established global hub where banks continue to hire and where London-learnt skills are in demand, says James Rushworth, a director at search firm Profile.
There are product control opportunities in Hong Kong too, says James Carss, director, banking & financial services at Hudson. “Although definitely not buoyant, these areas are always short of talent in Hong Kong and there is a larger volume of candidates available in London for these roles,” he adds.
7.) Internal audit
Although there are audit candidates available locally, finding the right person at the right price who is happy to move jobs in the current climate is difficult, says Robert Conway, head of banking & finance at Talent2 in Hong Kong. Banks in Asia are also increasingly favouring auditors with finance-sector backgrounds, which is opening up opportunities for expats, sometimes at the expense of candidates straight from local offices of the Big Four accountancy firms.
One for the night owls. “At management level – VP and above – there are roles supporting Europe from Singapore and the hours tend to be UK-shift, so anyone happy to relocate to work nights is sought after,” explains Profile's Rushworth. Demand exists for senior candidates within prime brokerage, synthetic middle-office and stocklending experience, says Conway. “These functions are more complex and developed in the US/UK and candidates with 10 years’ plus experience with a solid track record in top tier banks will be considered in Hong Kong.”
9.) Back-office private banking
Recruiting relationship managers without Asian experience is rare because most private banks are only hiring RMs with local client networks. The only hope for expats in this sector is on the product/back-office side, says Jack Bennett, director, Lion Rock International.
“Unless it’s a highly technical role and the expertise doesn’t exist here, they would go for someone on a local package in the first instance,” adds Nick Hughes, a senior consultant at recruiters WH Marks Sattin.
10.) Global markets
There might be some hope in front office i-banking, if you’re focus is global, not regional. “It depends on the bank, but I would say global markets is still looking toward London and the US primarily for their talent, while areas like private banking really only look at local talent,” says a senior HR manager at leading UK bank in Asia.