A growing number of senior Standard Chartered staff in Singapore are contacting recruiters about moving jobs before the axe falls, as concern mounts about redundancies at the bank under a new cost-cutting drive.
Stan Chart is considering trimming headcount, having made little progress since May in meeting its $10.2bn external cost target for 2018, according to an October 5 email from CFO Andy Halford to management that was seen by eFinancialCareers. But speculation that jobs will be lost in Singapore actually started in July/August when 2018 cost pressures began to bite, say insiders.
Since then, recruiters have noticed a marked uptick in Stan Chart staff getting in touch with them to discuss opportunities elsewhere. Most of these calls and emails have come from senior people, who have been further spooked by the October memo, which says job cuts should target expensive senior staff in high-cost locations. Stan Chart makes nearly 70% of its profits in Asia, and Singapore – an expensive financial hub – is home to many of its global managers.
“When I got back from holiday in late August, about 45 senior Stan Chart staff – many of them MDs – had got in touch in just two weeks wanting to meet me. I’ve never experienced that kind of interest in 15 years of recruiting,” says a senior headhunter in Singapore who asked not to be named. “And over the past few weeks I’ve had more of their people asking me for coffee – people who wouldn’t have been interested six months ago. They are nervous about cuts and looking to make pre-emptive moves. This new management email just formalises their concerns.”
The headhunter is not alone. “There have been more Stan Chart staff reaching out to me the last three months. And about 80% of SC people are open to opportunities when we approach them,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting in Singapore. “We’ve had an increased number of senior SC candidates contacting us recently, and many have cited concerns about possible job cuts. I expect more to reach out to recruitment agencies in the coming weeks,” adds another Singapore-based recruiter.
Are senior managers at Stan Chart in Singapore right to be concerned about layoffs? “Yes, job cuts at a senior level here are almost certain. Roles in support functions – operations or regional positions with no definite P&L – will likely be affected,” says a source close to the bank. “Some cuts have already started, with some bankers from the industry coverage groups recently receiving redundancy letters.”
Stan Chart’s wholesale banking unit could bear the brunt of any cuts in Singapore, suggests the anonymous headhunter. “Singapore is a global base for wholesale, so there’s plenty of costly group-level director and MD jobs here. This is a cost-saving drive, and you save more money by reducing in wholesale than in retail, where salaries tend to be lower,” she says. “I expect redundancies in support roles rather than sales. Even senior compliance roles could be affected because Stan Chart has hired so heavily that there’s now room to downsize. Non-sales leadership jobs in front-office capital markets and transaction banking could also be under threat.”
The good news is that all the people we spoke to for this report say they don’t think redundancies will be on the same scale as those started in late 2015 when Stan Chart announced plans to cull 15,000 roles globally, including jobs in Singapore. A spokesperson for the bank in Singapore did not comment on redundancies, but she said: “We have previously stated that our second half expenses will be similar to our first half expenses. That remains our view – as we will confirm in our third quarter results update on 31 October.”
Meanwhile, CFO Halford’s suggestion that Stan Chart also save money by restricting external hires is likely to be put into practice in Singapore, say recruiters. “I anticipate a temporary hiring slowdown or even a freeze at SC, although critical hires will likely still continue,” says the second anonymous recruiter. “There are pockets of recruitment going on there, especially in technology, strategy and change management. But it’s much harder to recruit at the moment and the process is more dragged out,” says Kuek from Myer Consulting.
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