Why finance professionals in Asia want to leave banks and join Google

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Google wins eFinancialCareers Ideal Employer Asia 2018

The firm that finance professionals in Asia aspire to work for is no longer an investment bank. It isn’t even a financial institution…it’s Google. The tech company has displaced 2017 winner J.P. Morgan to take the top spot for Asia in this year’s eFinancialCareers Ideal Employer report.

Google has jumped two places up the ranking over the past 12 months, overtaking both JPM and Goldman Sachs. It now takes pole position in our survey of about 2,000 finance professionals in Asia (most of whom are based in Singapore and Hong Kong). Its popularity is particularly strong in the region. Respondents to the same survey in the US and UK ranked Google third when asked where they would ideally like to work, and why.

The growing appeal of Google comes at a bad time for banks – from BNP Paribas to Credit Suisse – that are building development teams in Singapore and Hong Kong and trying to hire from the same small local talent pool as technology firms are. Moreover, unlike in the UK, another tech company – Facebook – makes our Asian top-10, as shown below.

Even more worryingly for banks, jobs at the likes of Google and Facebook appear increasingly attractively to a broad range of banks’ current Asian employees – our survey respondents work in both tech and non-tech roles in finance. This reflects a burgeoning trend for tech giants, initially led by Chinese companies like Alibaba and Tencent, to poach front-office bankers into corporate development jobs. Google has recently hired people from banks into strategy roles in Singapore.

Why Google?

Google owes some of its success among Singapore and Hong Kong respondents to its reputation for offering funky workplaces and generous benefits – and banks’ inability to match it on these fronts. Three-quarters of Asia-based voters for Google as an ideal employer perceive that ‘flexible working options’ are a key strength of the company. J.P. Morgan could only muster 25% in the same category.

In November 2016, Google opened a new campus-style APAC headquarters in Singapore, featuring hipster cafes, massage rooms and Lego-playing desks. Unsurprisingly, the tech firm scores highly (and banks comparatively poorly) in Asia for its ‘office environment’ (83%) ‘company perks’ (79%) and ‘positive organisational culture’ (74%).

It also outranks the banks for offering ‘challenging/interesting work’ and being an ‘innovator in the industry’. This implies that recent efforts by banks in Asia to make themselves more appealing to Millennials – and stave off competition from tech firms – may not have gone far enough. In April, for example, Standard Chartered became the latest financial firm to open a tech innovation lab in Hong Kong. HSBC now houses some 300 Hong Kong staff in an open-plan WeWork office, in a bid to encourage start-up-style collaboration.

But Google’s Ideal Employer win isn’t just about it appearing innovative and having nice offices. The company is starting to encroach into areas where banks once held the upper hand. Asian voters give it higher marks than any bank for its perceived ‘financial performance/strength’ and ‘strong executive leadership’. And they rate it third (78%) for its ‘competitive salaries’, only marginally behind Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. Facebook (77%) is also seen as a good paymaster, suggesting that banks can’t rely on compensation alone to attract and retain people who might otherwise be drawn to big tech.

A mixed bag of banks

Despite being edged out by Google, J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs rank ahead of all other banks in Asia and have been in the top-three since our survey began in 2016. Having a major US investment bank on your resume comes with plenty of prestige in both business and family circles in Asia. Both firms comfortably outdo their banking rivals for being perceived as ‘industry leaders’.

The Asian top-10 includes two Asia-focused firms, DBS and Standard Chartered, which don’t make the cut in our global Ideal Employer list. Stan Chart generated 68% of its revenues from Asia last quarter, while 72% of DBS voters in our survey believe it is a financially strong company and 63% say it works with ‘key industry players’.

The other banks in our Asian ranking have all been prioritising the region in recent years. At Citi, which boasts the largest headcount of any foreign bank in Singapore, Asia accounted for a quarter of profits last year. UBS is expanding its private bank in Hong Kong and Singapore, while Credit Suisse is doing the same, as part of CEO Tidjane Thiam’s wider business pivot toward Asia.

View the complete 2018 eFinancialCareers Ideal Employer Rankings

Image credit: georgeclerk, Getty

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