Several banks are restructuring in Asia right now – trimming back unprofitable business units and making layoffs. Standard Chartered is closing down its equities division, with about 100 job losses in Hong Kong alone, RBS is preparing to withdraw from Asian corporate banking, Barclays is winding up the Asian job cuts it started last year, and CIMB is slashing investment-banking costs by 30%.
These banks still need to recruit in Singapore and Hong Kong, though – both to replace essential staff who leave and to expand successful departments. Stan Chart is beefing up in private banking, for example.
[efc_twitter text="If the role you really want is at a bank that’s restructuring its Asian operations, here are the interview questions to ask"] to make sure the job is secure.
You may think you know a detailed answer to this already but unless you have insider information, you probably don’t. “It will affect your job if you’re interviewing for a trade-support role in fixed income, and you don’t know that the bank is restructuring its front-office fixed-income trading desk in Asia,” says Christine Wright, managing director of recruiters Hays in Asia.
“If the hiring manager can answer this question with authority, it shows the bank has a clear strategy that’s been transmitted to all stakeholders and isn’t a knee-jerk reaction,” says Jason Ne Win, a principal consultant at recruitment firm Selby Jennings in Hong Kong. “If they can’t answer it well, it shows they have no visibility about the strategy, which should immediately raise red flags.” Asking this question has another potential benefit: “During times of change, banks in Asia want to know that the people they’re hiring are looking to stay. Asking a long-term question suggests you’re a stayer and not a job hopper,” says Lim Chaileng, associate director, banking and financial services, at recruiters Randstad in Singapore.
Once you understand the effect on the team or department, get specific about the job you’re interviewing for. “Flatter management structures are a common consequence of restructurings at banks, which often means fewer opportunities for promotion,” says Henry Chamberlain, a former head of selection at Standard Chartered who’s now a Hong Kong-based careers consultant. “So make sure you know the implications for your career beyond when you initially take the job – think about your overall career objectives.”
While restructurings are usually more about firing than hiring, finding out which departments are set to expand over the next few years may reveal potential future career paths within the bank. “This question will also give you an idea of further changes that might take place and the impact these could have on your own job,” says Lim.
If an opening crops up during a restructuring, there’s an increased chance of it being an interim position – a stop-gap while the bank firms up its business plans. But beware – it may not be advertised as such. “In times of change there are more of these de facto ‘temporary’ roles at banks,” says Chamberlain. “I know someone who became ‘acting boss’ for nearly a year but the organisation clearly didn’t intend to actually promote her into the position. She had to do two people’s work.”
It’s worth probing into how the bank is handling the HR side of the restructuring – find out what programmes it has in place to find new jobs internally for redundant staff in Asia. “This will give you a sense of how secure your own position might be should your team be the focus of restructuring in the future,” says Wright from Hays.
If you’re looking for a managerial job, you need to know whether the restructuring will leave you with a budget that’s too small to fulfil your ambitions for the team and might stifle your own career. “Leaders should ask about the headcount and budget implications of the restructure. You may have to do more work than expected, with fewer people and resources and less authority and autonomy,” says careers consultant Chamberlain.