As Barclays cuts back in Asia, its former global trust and fiduciary business is ramping up recruitment in the region.
ZEDRA, the trust firm founded in January when independent investors bought a majority stake from Barclays, has opened a new office in Hong Kong and plans to increase headcount there from just three people now to about 35 over the next 12 months.
In Singapore ZEDRA has 10 employees, including eight former Barclays staffers, and is recruiting six more by the end of the year, says Singapore managing director Matthew Corbin.
“We need people in accounting and finance, and we’re also hiring a business development director in Singapore who will build a new team focused on corporate services, company incorporation and trade services support,” says Corbin.
Hiring in the trust sector in Singapore and Hong Kong is not entirely straightforward, however.
“The industry is comparatively small, especially in Asia, so it’s hard and often not advisable to always recruit people from within the sector. Looking at transferable skills and qualifications is often more important,” says Corbin.
Corbin typically looks for accounting skills, finance skills and knowledge of the financial sector. “But technical expertise isn’t enough. You need to be an all-rounder because you must have the ability to deal with wealthy people and their families – an understanding of family psychology, for example, is important.”
Common qualifications in the trust world include a finance or law degree and a qualification from STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) or ICSA (Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators). “And these days a Master’s degree is becoming increasingly important,” adds Corbin.
Attracting junior talent to work at trusts can be difficult. “I don’t think many grads going into the finance sector know much, if anything, about the trust industry – so unfortunately they don’t consider it as a career,” explains Corbin.
He adds: “Being a trustee your day is extremely varied and you have contact with so many different people – not just wealthy families, but also lawyers, accountants, other professional intermediates, and family offices. It’s also booming area in Asia. For example, there are huge opportunities to plan the overseas assets of wealthy Chinese, Indians and Indonesians.”
What can you expect at an interview at ZEDRA? “I like to ask a few questions that you can’t prepare for as I want to see how you think on your feet, which is a very important quality when working as a trustee. I like to see that you take a bit of time to think of an answer rather than just say something totally off the cuff.”
“And sometimes I ask a near-impossible question and I like it when people say ‘sorry, I don’t know the answer to that’. Having a staff full of yes-men and women is a weakness in my eyes, so saying ‘no’ in an interview can actually be a sign of strength and character.”
Corbin says he also trys to “get to know you a bit as a person, not just as a candidate”. “Having something you’re passionate about outside of work isn’t a distraction. And in a smaller organisation you need to find out how well people will fit into the team.”
Corbin has worked at several trust firms since he left his government job at the UK’s Foreign Office when he was 23. “At that age my twin brother, who was already working at a trustee, was earning more a month than I was in a year.”
“But it wasn’t just about the money – I come from a family who all work in the trustee and fiduciary industry, so I understood what the trust world was like from an early age. And I knew it would suit me because I wanted a job where I could work abroad and work closely with a wide range of people.”
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