This is what the banking job market in APAC was really like in 2017

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If they’re not on holiday already, banking recruiters across Asia Pacific are desperately trying to land last-minute job offers for candidates who don’t mind moving before the bonus season.

Now is also the time when recruiters are able to clearly identify some of the key trends that shaped the finance sector in 2017. We spoke to several recruiters in Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney – here’s what they had to say about the job market this year.

Year of the boutiques in private banking

It’s not just the likes of UBS and Credit Suisse that have been hiring private bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore in 2017. Several boutique banks were also recruiting, following a flurry of recent takeovers that have given them more clout in the job market, says Liu San Li, an ex-private banker, now head of banking at search firm IGS Asia in Singapore. LGT, for example, took on more RMs after acquiring ABN AMRO’s Asian wealth unit earlier this year. VP Bank said in August that it wanted to double its Singapore headcount and EFG said it would keep on hiring in the Republic, having taken on BSI’s Singapore RMs last year. Meanwhile, Safra Sarasin and  UBP have also been growing their regional headcounts.

2017 bonus optimism in Hong Kong investment banking

“The hope is that bonuses will be better than they have been for the past five years,” says Nick Green, a partner at headhunters Odgers Berndtson in Hong Kong. “Market sentiment in Hong Kong is a lot more positive than it’s been for five years, perhaps since the financial crisis. Bankers are more optimistic.” Job cuts among expensive senior staff in Hong Kong in 2015 and 2016 have also given global banks more scope to increase their bonus pools for their remaining bankers. But don’t get too excited. While any rise in bonuses will reverse a long-standing downward trend, increases are not likely to be dramatic and won’t be spread evenly across different banks and coverage sectors.

Singaporean female candidates demand more money

“This year banks have been focusing more on hiring female Singaporeans, following concerns about gender diversity in the sector,” says Richard Fennelly, a director at recruiters Hartwell Buck. “This has also recently led to a perception in the job market that Singaporean women will expect a higher salary premium than their male counterparts when they move banks.”

Rise of the internal candidate in Hong Kong

“In Hong Kong, across all banking jobs, we’ve seen an increasing amount of jobs go to internal candidates who already work for the bank, as opposed to external people,” says Hong Kong-based Fennelly. “As some operations functions continue to be outsourced or offshored, for example, there’s been a focus on helping these people find alternative employment internally rather than bringing in fresh talent.”

Mandarin hits the middle-office

As China continued to liberalise its financial markets, banks in Hong Kong stepped up their hiring of Mandarin-speaking candidates for middle-office jobs focused on mainland clients this year, says Eunice Ng, a director at Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong. “These include roles in internal control, corporate governance, internal audit, systems control, risk management, risk assessment, and compliance testing.”

Strange strategy job titles

In a move away from relying on their own siloed digital channels, banks in APAC have embraced the ‘ecosystems model’ which gives fintech start-ups access to customer accounts, payments and other data. Ecosystems strategists were demand in 2017 as a result. “I see a lot of tech strategy hires happening in wholesale banking, under ‘ecosystem’, ‘landscape’ and all kind of titles,” says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group.

Data analytics frenzy

Data analytics has been a sought after role for a few years, but in 2017 banks in APAC were recruiting in even greater numbers and for more specialist jobs. “The difficulty is finding people who can analyse the data and apply the information to a particular area – for example compliance analytics,” says Christina Ng, executive director of LMA recruitment in Singapore. “We can find compliance professionals who understand processes, but sourcing people who can also use technical programming languages (such as SAS or R) to analyse data is extremely challenging.”

The compliance slump could have been worse

As we noted in September, compliance hiring in Singapore and Hong Kong fell this year as contracts ran out, banks focused on specialist roles and technology took over jobs. But don’t feel too sorry for your regulatory colleagues – compared with other job functions they remain in demand. Regulatory compliance specialists still achieved pay rises of 10% to 15% when moving banks, says Tim Klimcke, a director a recruitment agency Robert Walters in Singapore.

Head down under for big salary increases

Several job sectors in Australian financial services enjoyed high salary rises in 2017 thanks to a tight labour market, says Carl Piesse, business director at recruiters Hays Banking in Sydney. “In commercial banking, the biggest increases were seen across sales, lending, credit and relationship management,” he adds. “In wealth management, paraplanners enjoyed the greatest increases, because of severe candidate shortages. The fintech industry continued to expand in Australia and business development managers with strong networks were increasingly in demand here.”

Image credit: Maulsmashe, Getty

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