Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), which received a full banking license to operate in Singapore earlier this month, is expanding its workforce in the city state as it increases its exposure to international trade. Ship finance is central to its growth plans – and recruiters in both Singapore and Shanghai expect it to poach professionals in this field from Western competitors. Singapore, a shipping and logistics hub, is a natural base for ICBC, which is China’s leading ship-financing bank and represents clients like COSCO and China Shipping.
Jason Tan, director of financial services and banking, PSD Group Shanghai, says ICBC, along with Bank of China, has historically been the most “adventurous” Chinese bank when expanding overseas and hiring international talent. “Just look at its operations in Hong Kong. I would not be surprise if ICBC announces the capture of key people in Singapore, or maybe a whole team, from a foreign bank.”
ICBC will in particular target candidates from niche European banks that finance shipping deals, such as DZ Bank, says a recruiter who asked not to be named. Growing its shipping business in Singapore will require a healthy balance sheet, sound risk management and strong client relationships, adds Tan. “Assuming the target clients are Asian-based ship and shipyard owners, then the headcount might go into sales, financing/structuring, and risk.”
But what about the brand?
Candidates in Singapore and Hong Kong have slowly become more open to working for Chinese firms since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. “The attraction of working for Chinese institutions has come a long way,” says Pan Zaixian, general manager, Kerry Consulting. “With the general decline in the banking industry as a whole, mainland banks are now comparatively more likely to have the balance sheet to lend, and they have an improving corporate culture and image.”
Farida Charania, chief executive officer, Nastrac, agrees: “ICBC is a respected brand and it has several international partnerships where it holds a stake, for instance in Standard Bank, so it’s not a hard sell.”
Chinese banks – backed by their government’s strong global-trade policies and the yuan’s development as an international settlement currency – are posing an increasingly compelling story to foreign candidates, says Tan. And ICBC’s talent-pulling power is boosted by its ranking number five in the Forbes top-2000 global companies list.
“With its global branch network, I do not foresee ICBC facing difficulty in attracting talent because it is a Chinese bank,” notes Tan. “If I am speaking with senior shipping bankers about ICBC, I expect to hear them say: ‘ICBC has a big balance sheet, therefore I am keen to explore, provided they know my current and expected pay.’”