This year is unlikely to be a straightforward one if you want to move to a new banking job in Hong Kong or Singapore. Redundancies, offshoring and hiring freezes don’t look like going away.
What are the toughest decisions that candidates in Asia must deal with in 2017? Finance recruiters highlight some difficult dilemmas.
Chinese banks are hiring in Hong Kong as Western ones pare back. “The common expectation is that salaries will be slightly lower at mainland firms, but I’ve seen many examples where bankers have actually had to weigh up a sizable drop in basic pay against the promise of higher year-end bonuses to compensate,” says Nick Lambe, group managing director at recruiters Links International in Hong Kong. “This can make a decision to move to a Chinese bank very difficult, as the leap of faith needed is huge.”
With global banks in Asia continuing to cut and offshore jobs, some finance professionals are making pre-emptive moves into contracting. “We recently had a candidate who was interviewing for a 12-month contract position with an international bank in Singapore,” says Sam Belcher, managing director at recruiters The Edge Partnership in Singapore. “Although they were working in a permanent role, they decided to leave and accept the contract because their employer was restructuring and deploying roles overseas.”
Would you move from a stable boutique to a large firm with a hire-and-fire reputation? Tier-one US and European investment banks may be laying off senior front-office staff in Asia, but they’re still competing for top-performing analysts and associates, says Jay Abeyasinghe, associate director of financial services at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Singapore. “There’s a growing cohort of talented young bankers in second-tier banks who may well get the call to interview with the top-tier later this year,” he says. The upsides of moving obviously include better compensation and working on mega-cap deals. “The counter considerations include work-life balance and potentially a lower job rank, but most bankers in Asia will still choose to go,” adds Abeyasinghe.
“Senior bankers made redundant from foreign banks may face the dilemma of reporting to their former industry peers or juniors if they go for roles in Asian banks,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. “This can be a hard pill to swallow. The ‘face’ issue in Asian banking is still a genuine problem, and how people deal with it often depends on how financially desperate they are to land a job.”
“In the current market, lots of banking professionals in Asia remain out of work,” says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group. “If you’re one of them, you’ll always be asked in an interview about why your former bank chose you for redundancy. But I’m finding that not many people are convincing when they answer this question.” Start preparing your response now.
Tight profit margins may have forced ANZ, Barclays and Coutts to quit Asian private banking last year, but large firms (think, Credit Suisse, Standard Chartered and Julius Baer) are still hiring and are offering large pay increases to entice new relationship managers. “Private bankers need to weigh up an instant increase in base salary against the potential negative long-term effects on their total compensation if their AUM is diluted,” says Grant Torrens, business director of recruiters Hays in Singapore. “The new bank may already have some of the RM’s clients on its books, which would cause an ‘ownership’ risk. There could also be compliance and platform problems.”
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