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Guest Comment: the new internationally mobile superheroes are…product controllers (seriously)

Chris Jay, associate director of Morgan McKinley’s financial services division, Singapore, explains why product controllers are so in demand and why candidates from other countries should apply for jobs in Singapore.

All the major financial institutions in Singapore are once again hiring experienced product controllers, with volumes back to pre-crisis levels at some banks. Most large European and American investment banks currently have around 20 to 30 vacancies in this specialist accounting area at any one time.

Post GFC, the standard of technical knowledge that banks are now seeking in their new recruits is very high. And today’s product controllers must also be strong communicators in order to challenge the front office.

The control role is changing

The job of a product controller is evolving, with the emphasis currently on regulatory and policy knowledge, as well as keeping up with technical aspects of new and complex products.

In particular, product controllers with experience of exotic derivatives, or specialist commodities in lesser-traded products like green energy, are highly valued. Product controllers are also extending their remit to cover additional analytical work including price testing, valuations and risk analysis.

An empty talent tank

A shortage of supply of quality product controllers in Singapore means that most candidates can be highly selective in choosing their next role. Since the global downturn, some professionals have realised that “the grass is not always greener on the other side” and they are therefore thinking more medium to long term about their careers.

Having said that, banks which didn’t look after their staff during the downturn are finding that individuals are now moving on, as the job market has opened up. Counter offers have become prominent, but often it is too little too late for many disgruntled product controllers.

Given the level of demand, banks are looking at multiple ways of filling product control roles. These include: increasing basic salaries where appropriate during the bonus period; searching outside Singapore or even outside Asia; moving staff internally from other functions or other product control asset classes; as well as introducing graduate and other training schemes in order to “grow their own”.

International mobility

Many investment banks have hired individuals from less traditional markets such as Manila and Mumbai as well as from mature hubs like London and New York, targeting individuals who seek lower taxes, a new challenge and a different environment.

The Middle East also offers another pool of experienced product control candidates for the Singapore market. Similarly, candidates from the main Asia Pacific financial centres of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Sydney are also heavily sought after because of their experience in Asia and the popularity of inter-regional moves.

The job mobility programmes within product control, which all banks have been practicing since the credit crisis and the mass redundancies that ensued, are continuing to train and retain good employees. Those who possess an accounting qualification and perhaps have worked in a different product control asset class (or even in financial control) and have experience in analysing accounting numbers, are potential candidates to move into the infrastructure space and be trained into roles.

In conclusion, demand in this area significantly outweighs supply at present and banks are having to plan well, be innovative, look outside the local market and have an open mind in order to achieve the product control headcount growth they need.

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