It was generally a year of redundancies and tepid recruitment in the Singapore finance sector. But there were still banks and job functions that provided the labour market with a few bright spots.
We review some of the big trends affecting banking careers in Singapore in 2016.
1. The big guns took over private banking hiring
Although wealth management remained the most buoyant part of the Singapore finance sector in 2016, the hiring was concentrated in the hands of a few. DBS and Bank of Singapore grew their RM ranks by buying the Asian wealth units of ANZ and Barclays respectively, but it wasn’t all about acquisitions. Credit Suisse was the most rampant recruiter – taking on 100 new RMs across Asia in the year to end-September. Julius Baer and Standard Chartered also tapped talent keen to leave rival private banks that are struggling to eke out profits in Asia.
2. Compliance costs took their toll
Compliance problems suddenly got very localised for banks in 2016. The Monetary Authority of Singapore shuttered the local offices of BSI and Falcon Private Bank, and fined DBS and UBS in a clampdown on alleged money-laundering by Malaysia’s scandal-hit 1MDB fund. As we reported in October, private bankers are spending more of their time dealing with regulatory issues. And banks haven’t been able to slow down their compliance hiring either – good if you work in the function, not so good if you don’t. “Bonuses this year will reflect lower profit margins due to continued investment into compliance,” says Anita Sim, regional head of front-office for LMA Recruitment.
3. Senior investment bankers struggled
Investment banks in Singapore continued to cull directors and MDs as Southeast Asian IB revenue suffered its lowest first-nine-month level since 2005. Goldman Sachs trimmed senior Singapore bankers in September as part of a regional restructuring, while in November Standard Chartered axed about 15 corporate finance MDs. Earlier this month, Credit Suisse had to slash its profit projections in Asian investment banking and UBS reportedly cut up to 20 bankers in Asia. In Hong Kong, however, redundant bankers could at least consider joining Chinese banks like CITIC. In Singapore, experienced bankers found themselves short of alternatives. “Senior roles are particularly limited at the moment, so it will be more difficult than usual to land an equivalent role at a similar bank in these muted market conditions,” Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore, told us last month.
4. Landing a job took longer
Getting a job interview, or even an initial chat with a recruiter, was hard enough in Singapore this year – but you then faced an abnormally lengthy hiring process. In a downbeat labour market banks could afford to be fussy about who they took on. “Banks have become much more cautious in terms of hiring, which means longer hiring timelines and more rounds of interviews, and also have increasingly stringent requirements with respect to technical skills and product knowledge,” says Alena Salakhova, regional director of recruiters Hudson in Singapore.
5. More job offers just fell apart
As banks like Deutsche and Standard Chartered carried out wave after wave of restructuring in 2016, recruiters report an uptick over the last 12 months in banks pulling out of offers. “I had candidates who received a verbal offer and then during the final approval process the banks said the position no longer existed because it was filled by an internal employee or it just hadn’t been approved,” says Komal Mehta, a partner at recruitment agency KS International in Singapore.
6. But change managers were suddenly more sought after
One positive result of all that restructuring? Change managers were increasingly in demand, in 2016. “Large and complex change-delivery projects in areas like digital, data, compliance, human capital and banking strategy were being defined and rolled out,” says Yani Johan, a consultant at recruiters Astbury Marsden. “As a result, a number of banks in Singapore are recruiting change management and transformation talent. The consulting houses are also hiring more financial services strategy consultants to service them.”
7. Digital banking came of age
Demand for digital banking professionals picked up in 2016, says Ivan Tang, a former Societe Generale banker, now managing partner at recruiters Tangspac Consulting in Singapore. Global banks like UBS and Credit Suisse, for example, are developing online platforms to help relationship managers communicate better with clients. Singaporean banks, meanwhile have been “lagging behind” in digital banking implementation, says Tang. They are trying to catch up and are now hiring more technologists with HTML5 and mobile-banking experience.
8. Bankers become fintech employees
Bankers setting up their own fintech firms in Singapore is nothing new, but in 2016 more finance professionals started joining existing tech companies as employees. “There are a lot of bankers on the market who are disillusioned working in investment banking or private banking,” says Singapore-based Dominic Gamble, CEO of fintech firm Findawealthmanager and a former Credit Suisse private banker, told us earlier this year. “We particularly target associate level – they’re well trained and academically strong, yet are amongst the most disappointed with the banking sector.”
9. Contracting took off beyond tech
“There was an increase in the number of vacancies for contract or temporary roles in 2016,” says Ben Batten, country general manager of recruitment firm Volt in Singapore. “In the past these have been largely limited to technology jobs, but now we’re seeing contracts in areas like procurement, the middle office and finance.”
10. Offshoring didn’t end
Global banks began offshoring technology and operations jobs away from Singapore about four years ago – 2016 proved that the trend is far from over. Barclays, for example, moved more than 100 IT jobs to India in September following a previous round of relocations in May. The Republic may be reinventing itself as a hotbed for fintech innovation, but offshoring primarily affects lower end tech and back-office jobs. Professionals still employed in these functions are increasingly looking for alternative careers as we head into 2017. “The international banks have squeezed the last few pennies out of their operations, and staff are constantly waiting for that dreaded phone call alerting them of pending redundancy,” a recruiter in Singapore, told us previously.
Image credit: P_Wei, Getty