Singapore: outlook unclear
Here’s our take on the job market in 2012 after speaking to employers and candidates in Singapore financial services.
This last round of banking redundancies has hit hard; consistently throughout the year our clients have announced more and more cuts. The usual bottom 10% of performers were let go, but this time so too were many experienced managers and directors. When retrenching senior candidates, the driver appears to have been salaries, which are extremely high. Singapore compensation has definitely increased to a level where it is no longer sustainable.
More production functions are moving from Singapore to low-cost locations such as India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Europe. China is being increasingly talked about. Roles we see going include: market risk reporting, product- and financial-control production work and operations (non-client facing), IT development, IT support, and data warehousing.
Jittery job seekers
Candidates are understandably nervous, especially if they work for one of the big banks. Product-control and IT-support/development professionals tell us that they “come into work every day wondering if it’s their turn to be pulled into an office and then walked off the premises”.
It seems that active candidates are looking to change jobs mainly because of offshoring and instability at their current employers.
Some candidates are happy that they have a job and are keeping their heads down, but we are also seeing a large number of junior and senior people wanting to get out of banking all together. They are questioning whether banking is still better compensated and more interesting than commerce. Are endless regulations draining the sector of excitement?
A large number of expats have returned home this year, either out of choice or after being retrenched. Singapore is becoming a more expensive place to live.
Candidates who are interested in talking about their next move want a large salary increase or better title. If they don’t get this, they just stay where they are.
Some candidates are worried about joining a new firm and being “last in and first out”.
It’s quite difficult trying to pull people out of the commerce into financial services. They are often paid more in base salary and bonus, and have better work-life balance.
Salaries and bonuses
Salary increases when moving to a new role have been around the 10 to 15% mark this year. We have seen a few at 20% or more, but these have been for very strong candidates or specialised roles.
People are not hanging around for bonus announcements this year as many predict a low or zero figure, so they are happy to leave before their payments.
Compliance professionals are looking for the biggest raises, probable because they know they are in high demand. We have had candidates ask for 20 to 30, and even 50%.
Headcount approvals and offer letters are also taking a lot longer to receive; interview processes are sometimes longer, too.
Perception of working in banking and financial services
Many candidates at all levels appear very down in the dumps regarding their workplace and career – morale seems low and they want out. Some are asking us about roles in hedge funds, asset managers or private equity firms. But we are continually finding that candidates at VP and director level are well paid and their salaries cannot be matched by the buy side.
We are currently representing many Western candidates who have been recently retrenched, but there are few roles around and these people need to be prepared to take a rather large pay decrease.
Auditors and consultants from the Big Four are still interested in moving into banking and financial services but are being very selective about the organisation.
There is also a big perception change surrounding the Singaporean banks. We are being specifically asked what opportunities exist at DBS, OCBC and UOB. Standard Chartered is also seen as an employer of choice due to its size in Asia, number of opportunities and success.
Yes, some skills are still sought after
It’s all about regulations, processes and controls. Sought-after roles include: compliance, Basel II or III knowledge, RWA, credit risk, regulatory, audit and e-commerce technology. Client-services operations is also in high demand and we are frequently being asked for language skills for these jobs – Japanese, Mandarin and Korean in particular.
For finance roles, having a professional accounting qualification is becoming more important.
Contractors are also in demand, with most banks offering anything from a three to 12-month commitment. The majority of these roles are finance, operations and technology.
In technology, the race to be e-commerce efficient across all products is on. Many of our clients have demanded strong developers with detailed domain knowledge. The biggest problem is once again the regulators. Many of the CIOs we have spoken to have a common viewpoint: Their technology budget is swallowed up by ensuring the organisation is compliant with the new regulations and there is therefore limited budget, if any, for creativity, development and growth of their trading systems.
We are now wondering what next year will bring but we remain positive. Even with all the offshoring, high-value roles will still exist in Singapore and the country will remain the Asian hub for many organisations. Companies are still hiring and people are still moving, and we believe this will continue into 2013.
Sonia Fuller and Kyle Blockley are directors of KS Consulting.