But while these generalist roles make cause banks and recruitment agencies in Singapore and Hong Kong some level of hiring anxiety, they don’t usually require heavy-duty headhunting.
We’ve asked recruiters in the two Asian cities to describe the most difficult hiring mandates they've worked on recently – finance job vacancies which have proven tricky (or impossible) to fill.
Moving candidates from Hong Kong into mainland China is passé these days; Myanmar is the new frontier for adventurous headhunters. Rafael Brana, a consultant at search firm Bo Le Associates in Hong Kong, has worked on three assignments for private equity funds covering the country. “The challenge is that PE firms now want people on the ground in Myanmar, not people based in Hong Kong or Singapore who fly in and out. But they don’t want locals or candidates from neighbouring states like China or India,” Brana explains. “So you have to convince someone to move from a developed country, on the basis that they could have a massive impact by being among the first financial-services professionals to work in this fascinating emerging market.”
Compliance professionals are always in short supply in Singapore, but throw in a requirement for knowledge of a new US regulation, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, and you have a genuinely tricky hire. “While recruiting a FATCA compliance advisor in an international bank, we faced hiring challenges due to the severely limited talent pool in Singapore,” says Alvin Leong, a compliance consultant at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore. “Due to the new requirement for all banks to comply with FATCA by 1 July, the bank had a pressing timeline and we had to look globally, in countries like Hong Kong and the US. It took two full months and the bank finally hired someone from the US who had recently relocated to Singapore.”
“One financial services clients in Singapore was recently seeking a lawyer with a financial-services background, plus experience in a major financial services market like the US or UK, and on top of that they wanted the person to be a Singapore-qualified lawyer,” says the head of one recruitment agency in Singapore. “This kind of search is very tough due to the specific mix of pre-requisites. As of today, we still haven’t identified a candidate who can satisfy all of the requirements.”
“We were recently engaged by a private equity outfit to recruit a head of risk for a new joint venture in Cambodia,” says Patricia Teo, a financial services consultant at recruiters Kerry Consulting in Singapore. “It was challenging because the pre-requisites included a willingness to relocate on local terms (no international education for kids, no housing allowance, no tax equalisation) and risk-management experience in emerging-markets retail banking. The search took a couple of months; the problem was finding both a professional and personal fit. Eventually, we found a young, enterprising expat with the right skills, who was upbeat about the international exposure.”
“This year we have seen a huge shift towards digital marketing in insurance, with digital media having a big impact on how the industry reaches out to its customer base,” says James Carss, Asia managing director at Dryden Human Capital in Hong Kong. “It’s been difficult to find talent with both insurance knowledge and digital-marketing experience – every business is hiring for these roles in Asia. We have now changed direction to source candidates from digital and media agencies because their technical skills are transferable and the industry knowledge can be nurtured.”