OCBC’s technology professionals enjoyed a busy opening quarter and more tech hiring is on the cards this year, despite a big slump in Q1 profit.
Chief executive officer Samuel Tsien, speaking on OCBC’s first quarter earnings call, said transaction and customer numbers for the firm’s digital channels had significantly increased during the Covid-19 crisis as clients eschewed visiting branches and seeing bankers in person. For example, online trading volume jumped 104% compared with Q4, and there was a 2.4-fold year-on-year rise in accounts opened online by small and medium-sized enterprises.
These increases are a “good outcome” for the technology investments that OCBC has made in recent years, said Tsien. Encouragingly for jobs in technology at the bank, he added that OCBC will “continue to invest in digitalisation” and that the impact of Covid-19 will act as a catalyst to drive digitalisation even after the pandemic recedes.
Among other projects, OCBC’s tech professionals worked on increasing the bank’s capacity to provide digital signatures, and voice and video authentication for transaction and trade instructions. They also helped enable 18,000 staff (about 60% of the bank’s workforce) to work from home, according to OCBC’s financial results presentation.
Although hiring in the Singapore banking sector has fallen since Covid-19 started to spread locally in February, OCBC still has 56 tech and analytics jobs on its careers site (more than a quarter of its total vacancies). But taking on more technology talent won’t be entirely straightforward for OCBC. Rival DBS has scores of tech openings, and its Q1 results highlighted a “significant uplift in digital activity”. In a report on the impact of Covid-19 on the banking sector, McKinsey says the pandemic has forced Asian banks to “significantly accelerate their shift to digital channels”.
OCBC also followed DBS by stating that it has no plans to retrench staff “amid this outbreak”. Still, outside of technology, hiring at OCBC is likely to be subdued this year as the firm keeps a tight rein on costs. Profit fell 43% to S$698m year-on-year in Q1 as credit losses surged to S$657m from S$249m a year earlier. OCBC is making provisions for “stresses expected against the recessionary market outlook” and also cited allowances for a Singapore oil trader (likely to be Hin Leong).
CEO Tsien said the economic impact of Covid-19 will be more “penetrating” in Singapore and Asia than the bank predicted back in February, before the virus became a global pandemic. “Even if there is a stabilisation by the end of this year, a strong recovery is unlikely until 2021,” he added.
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