If there’s one job sector that almost all banks in Hong Kong and Singapore are prioritising this year, it’s technology. More than a quarter (27%) of Singapore-based vacancies across large banks are in tech-related roles, according to our January analysis of banks’ careers websites. The ratios for Goldman Sachs and DBS are even higher: 45% and 44%, respectively.
But beyond these broad numbers, what are some of the specific trends shaping the banking technology job market in Asia? Here’s what you need to know.
How do you get a technology job at a bank?
Full stack developers are in demand
If you’re a full stack developer, someone with knowledge of all layers of software development, expect to hear from headhunters in Singapore and Hong Kong this year. There is “increasing demand” for full stack developers, says Kat Wong a senior consultant at recruiters Selby Jennings in Hong Kong. It’s not only banks that are hiring. Smaller asset management firms increasingly want to take on one full stack developer – who can build both front and back-end systems – instead of hiring several specialised developers.
Finance experience isn’t so important
In a trend that gained momentum last year, banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are increasingly relaxing their need for technologists to come with financial services experience. “As banks adopt cutting-edge technologies, professionals with strong technical skills within big data, software engineering (using more recent stacks and frameworks) and cloud will be more sought after than those with domain expertise,” says Yien Quek, an associate manager of IT at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Singapore. “Skill shortages in areas like AI, machine learning and data science mean technology skills now take precedence at banks,” says Alexandra Plowman, associate director of technology at Pure Search. “There’s more on-the-job training taking place as tech candidates are continuously sourced from outside the finance industry.”
Application security roles are opening up in Asia
Recruitment in this subset of cyber security, which focuses on protecting software applications from external threats, is on the rise, says Michael Nette, a director at recruiters Ambition in Singapore. Banks have traditionally outsourced application security work, such as penetration testing and code reviews, but they are now building internal teams. Banks are increasingly adopting ‘software development life cycle’ (SDLC) frameworks to “improve the overall security of their applications prior to roll-out and production”, says Nette. Sought-after experience in this function includes web and mobile penetration testing, malware analysis, and reverse engineering.
Banks are mimicking the startup vibe
DBS’s stand-alone tech office in Singapore’s Fusionopolis district features a conservatory and project pods, while about 300 of HSBC’s Hong Kong-based digital staff are now ensconced in a hipsterish WeWork building. This is just the tip of the iceberg. As banks in Asia face increased competition for talent from startups and big tech firms such as Amazon and Google, their workplaces will become even more tech-like, says Faiz Modak, a senior manager at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore. “More banks are offering flexi-hours and even a casual dress code, which are both appealing to tech candidates,” he adds.
Don’t forget transaction banking
Banks like JP Morgan are hiring technologists to support their investment banking and trading operations in Singapore, while many others (from UBS to DBS) are developing high-profile private banking and retail apps. While transaction banking tech may not be generating as many headlines, banks are increasingly investing in it, says Grant Torrens, regional director of recruiters Hays in Singapore. Citi, for example, is using optical character recognition to speed up trade processing. Software engineers with a payments background are “highly sought after”, says Torrens.
Learn to code in Kotlin
Kotlin, a development language launched in 2011 and rooted in Android mobile development, has “burst out in popularity” as a back-end language in banking over the past year, says Joshua Spark, associate director of regional technology at LMA recruitment in Singapore. “Praised for expressive power, compilation speed, and interoperability with Java, programs can be converted to Kotlin with a right click,” he adds. “It offers less code, which is more compact and readable than Java, and suits engineers at banks seeking efficiency within tight deadlines. Current ground-up builds are increasingly using Kotlin, and developers in Asia are rushing to upskill.”
Banks face a battle in data science
As we reported last week, banks including Standard Chartered, JP Morgan and DBS are increasing their hiring of data scientists. Stan Chart alone has 33 vacancies in Singapore and Hong Kong requiring data skills. But large tech companies in Asia also want more data scientists, and some of them are even offering finance-focused data roles (Grab is hiring for its finance offshoot GrabPay, for example). “Data-centric tech giants like Alibaba, Google and Amazon can use data to build personalised portfolios and advise customers on financial management solutions,” says Ashwin Dinesh, a senior technology manager at recruiters Randstad in Singapore. “When presented with job opportunities in a bank or a tech firm, tech people will almost always choose the latter.”
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