The job market in Asian banking isn't strong enough for candidates to successfully demand extra benefits when negotiating with new employers, say recruiters. But that isn't stopping some people from trying.
Here are a few examples of banking professionals in Singapore and Hong Kong who've pushed their luck too far at job interviews, missing out on roles as a result.
“I had a trading candidate who while preparing for an interview wasn’t concerned with the salary, benefits or even what the role entailed,” says Nick Wells, a director at search firm Alicorn Chase in Singapore. “When I asked what he really wanted to know about, he said: ‘Do I need to be smartly dressed in their office? Can I wear jeans or shorts with flip-flops to work? If not, then cancel the interview.’”
“I had a regional head go for a global-head role with an investment bank,” says Wells. “In a panel interview he was asked to recommend changes to the trading floor to improve its performance. His reply was to implement ‘red day’ – once a week everyone had to come in wearing red, even the client-facing sales team. This would apparently encourage them to address problems face to face if they were angry at a team member. Needless to say, after a very short discussion about this, he wasn’t offered the job.”
“I had a candidate who was getting really good benefits from his existing firm and would only agree to move if the new employer agreed to pay his housing loan on top of the 30% salary increase that he was going to get anyway,” says Christina Ng, executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. “He was a very senior guy, but you could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard this demand.”
Singapore and Hong Kong already offer low income tax rates by global standards – but not low enough for one job seeker recently. “I had a candidate wanting a ridiculous nett take-home salary,” says Richard Aldridge, a director at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore. “To move he wanted the company to pay his tax bill, or at least make up for it in a pay uplift.”
“One of the candidates we represented asked for his car-wash payments to be included in his package,” says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group. “It was silly – no company pays for that kind of thing and if you can afford a car, you can afford to get it washed!”
So-called expat packages – additional benefits paid to staff hired from abroad – are almost extinct in Singapore. But in an effort to localise their ranks, banks in the city state are encouraging overseas-based Singaporeans to relocate – and some of these returnees are now asking (unsuccessfully) for ‘expat’ packages. “For Singaporeans looking to come back home, the question of a full expatriate deals – including kids’ education, housing and transport allowances – does get raised,” says Gary Lai, Southeast Asia managing director at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership.
Annual leave allowances vary greatly between firms in Singapore and Hong Kong – from a paltry 15 days to a French-style 30. “I’ve had candidates on 30 days who absolutely won’t move an inch when they try to join a new employer,” says a Hong Kong recruiter. “It’s doubly difficult because companies often won’t negotiate on this either – they have to keep all employees on the same holiday allowance.”
If you’re going for a management job, don’t demand to be treated differently from other managers. “A trader at a leading commodities firm asked if he would qualify for his own office should he join the new employer,” says Wells from Alicorn Chase. “But when told that all senior management sit on the open trading floor, he still insisted on being sectioned off from his staff, asking for a corner seat with a partition.”
“Last year a candidate who was still in the consideration stage, not even shortlisted, asked for a three-year severance package if his services were terminated in the first five years of employment,” says Charania from Nastrac. “The employer found him totally unreasonable, but he believed in his demand and stuck to it. He never made any further.”
Image credit: Barcin, Getty