Banking professionals in Singapore are sending their CVs in increasing numbers to the city state’s three home-grown banks, DBS, OCBC and UOB. Recruiters say they are now receiving about 20% more applications to vacancies at Singaporean banks than they were just two year ago – a surge out of kilter with the banking job market generally.
But why are local banks becoming more appealing to job seekers? After all, they offer limited international mobility outside of Asia, remain relatively minor players in Asian investment banking, and their salaries don’t exceed those of foreign competitors.
Here are some reasons why local banks are increasingly on candidates' radar in Singapore.
Last week DBS, UOB and OCBC were ranked as the three safest banks in Asia by Global Finance. All three also made the global top-15 list. “Candidates are attracted by their healthy profits, large deposit bases and the balance sheets driving their corporate businesses,” says Sherry Zerh, associate director of financial services at search firm Kerry Consulting in Singapore.
Many candidates are now questioning the commitment of foreign banks to their Asian businesses (think, business closures at Barclays, hiring and firing at Goldman Sachs). “Asia is a key driver of global economic growth and a lot of professionals in Singapore are looking to banks that offer great opportunities in this region,” says Stephanie Liew, a senior consultant at recruiters Marks Sattin in Singapore. “While some international banks are focusing more on their home markets, Singaporean banks are increasingly going regional with their businesses.”
“Candidates often say they’re looking at new business areas – the frontiers that Singaporean banks are now moving towards,” says Anita Sim, regional head of front office at LMA Recruitment. Wealth management is one of these. OCBC’s Bank of Singapore unit was only created in 2010, when the firm acquired ING’s Asian private bank, but is now among Asia’s most expansionist private banks. Similarly, DBS is now a strong force in the sector following its acquisition of Societe Generale’s and ANZ's regional private banking operations.
Singaporean banks are keen to talk up their commitment to growing their own talent from local graduate recruitment. But the fact that their ranks are also now increasingly filled with staff who’ve had previous stints at international firms is a far more important motivating factor for most candidates. “Having experienced senior people from big foreign banks in their workforce gives the impression that the Singaporean banks are committed to further expansion,” says Sim.
“A mid-career banker joining a local bank after being ‘trained’ by, say, Citi for 10 years is like a big fish joining a smaller pond,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm The Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. “People like that tend to differentiate themselves at the local bank – they’re accorded higher visibility and if they perform well they get good progression opportunities, which they may not have got had they stayed at the global firm.”
Many candidates, especially senior ones, are drawn to working at banks whose headquarters aren’t multiple time zones away. “Proximity to group heads generally increases ease of getting decisions made,” says Kuek. “This is a boon for a candidate’s work-flow, especially for front-liners who are originating business with clients.”
Foreign banks continue to offshore back-office jobs away from Singapore, but local firms are unlikely to follow suit given the public and political outcry this would provoke. “Singapore banks are perceived to be ‘iron rice bowls’ – less known to fire their staff at will or restructure their businesses,” says Zerh.
“I’ve seen this cited by senior Singaporean bankers who’ve been at a global bank their entire career: they want to join a local one to contribute their expertise and ‘give back’. They want to nurture the next generation of Singaporean talent in their area and embark on a more meaningful and purposeful role,” says Kuek from Meyer Consulting.
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