Now it seems that banks in the city state are hiring more front-office folk in M&A and capital markets, albeit on a smaller scale than in corporate banking.
Comparing year-to-date 2014 with the same period in 2013, search firm Nastrac has noted a 20% rise in front-office hires into investment banks in Singapore. Similarly, recruiters Morgan McKinley report that the front-office job market is at its strongest level since the 2008 financial crisis.
“In Singapore, as in Hong Kong, we are seeing higher levels of recruitment this year, although it’s still quite a patchy market,” says Sarah Harte-Spencer, director of global markets at search firm Sheffield Haworth. “It’s the year of ‘upgrading’ staff – something many banks said they would do in 2013, but didn’t.”
Vacancies in the front office are also opening up in Singapore because job markets in the US and Europe are recovering and some foreign bankers are choosing to return home, says Jay Abeyasinghe, manager, banking and financial services, at Morgan McKinley in Singapore. “The improving sentiment among Western investment banks in their home markets is also making them less reluctant than last year to hire here in Southeast Asia.”
European and US banks, most notably Societe Generale and Jefferies, are targeting expansion in Southeast Asia this year – Singapore serves as the region’s banking hub. The wholesale-banking arms of Australian firms ANZ, CBA and Westpac are also growing their front-office ranks, according to a Singapore-based headhunter who asked not to be named.
DBS is the most active recruiter among the three domestic Singaporean banks, having claimed the number-one spot for Southeast Asia announced M&A deals for the first half of this year, ahead of Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse.
As in Hong Kong, hiring in the front office in Singapore has a junior focus. “This year investment banks are rebuilding the structure of teams and are hiring many more analysts and associates,” says Abeyasinghe.
Senior roles in the city state are few and far between and are largely filled by internal transfers, says Stanley Teo, a director at Profile Search & Selection in Singapore. “Good senior debt capital markets people are an exception, with the amount of bond issuances surging in Asia,” he adds.
Financial institutions group (FIG) bankers are also sought after at all levels. As we noted last week, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank have recently appointed new FIG bosses for Southeast Asia.
“In specialist areas like this, banks still conduct global searches as the regional pool of talent is shallow,” says Abeyasinghe from Morgan McKinley. Recruiting internationally isn’t always straight forward, however, because bankers must adjust to the particularities of the Southeast Asian market.
“A lot of Asian corporations aren’t as keen to pay for advisory services, so bankers need to spend more time pitching and less time closing deals. You need more patience,” explains Teo from Profile. “And if you’re Southeast Asian but have been doing European deals for 10 years, you’ll find your lack of knowledge and contacts will be highly challenging if you return.”
Making a like-for-like career move from Hong Kong is also difficult because team and deal sizes are often smaller in Singapore. Investment banks typically base their Asian headquarters in Hong Kong thanks to its proximity to the mainland Chinese market. “But many bankers with families still prefer to work and live in Singapore as it’s considered to be a more stable country with a more salubrious overall living environment,” says Abeyasinghe.
The average base salary for investment bankers in Singapore is US$304k – less than in Hong Kong ($370k), London ($441k) and New York ($400k), according to data provider Emolument. But bankers earning this salary in Singapore would pay less than 15% in total income tax.