Banking recruitment in 2016 has turned out to be a bit of non-event in Singapore (I should know, I’m banking recruiter).
A number of global investment banks look like they will end the year on the same note as they began it: by retrenching their corporate finance teams.
Unsurprisingly, Singapore’s bustling fintech sector has been looking increasingly appealing to investment bankers.
With government backing, the Republic is establishing itself as a fintech hub, and several new international and home-grown players have set up shop in 2016.
Despite this growth, actually landing a fintech job is difficult in Singapore, even if you’ve got solid front-office IB experience.
Most fintech companies are still small here. And the job market is saturated with candidates following an influx of out-of-work bankers – both locals and people from Hong Kong and other overseas markets.
Moreover, a lot of currently employed bankers in Singapore are also considering fintech careers because of the downsizing that’s going on around them.
In this turbulent environment, many bankers are asking me how to stand out from the competition and put themselves in the best position to break into fintech in Singapore.
This is what I advise them.
1. It’s ok to start as an employee
Setting up your own fintech firm is obviously risky and expensive, and it’s currently a tough market to raise capital if you haven’t got a track record in tech. Joining a fast-growing tech firm as an employee is often the best first step. You can learn the ropes and develop your contacts before going it alone.
2. Network like crazy
Networking is important in traditional banking, but in an emerging sector like fintech it’s an even more crucial way of finding out about new vacancies. There are now plenty of local and regional fintech conferences, new launches and fundraising drives – so attend as many as you can. Once there, immerse yourself in discussions and brain-storming sessions. The industry is still nascent in South East Asia and insiders tend to be open to connecting with banking professionals.
3. Don’t forget the VCs
It’s equally important to cultivate and manage your network in the Asian venture capital space. VCs often help the fintech companies they invest in with their hiring, particularly at a senior level.
4. Apply for a variety of jobs
Investment bankers are naturally mostly attracted to fintech roles involving M&A, equity and debt capital raising, and corporate development. However, I’d advise you to be ready to reboot your career – so also consider jobs in areas such as sales, product development and research.
5. Show your sector knowledge at fintech interviews
If you do get an interview at a Singapore fintech firm, the interviewer will need convincing that you’re genuinely ready for this big career switch. Regardless of your banking prowess, they will need consistent assurance of your passion for technology and your broader knowledge of key recent trends and developments in the tech sector.
6. Don’t haggle hard over pay
You can be virtually guaranteed that fixed cash compensation in fintech will be significantly less than in banking. If this is an issue, don’t even go to interviews because at most start-ups base pay is non-negotiable outside a defined range. Getting into a protracted salary tug-of-war will negate your previous efforts to convince the firm that you are ready for a career change.
7. Display a long-term attitude at interviews
While cost control is initially critical to start-ups, they also want to hire people who are motivated by the long-term opportunities created if the company succeeds. Investment banking, by contrast, is focused on a short-term horizon due to the deal-by-deal nature of the role. So at a fintech interview you need to show you have the ability to shift your mindset and focus on long-term goals.
8. Be prepared to do some dirty work
Bring an open mind to the interview. The fintech work culture is both fluid and multi-faceted. Most fintech firms in Singapore are going through their hyper-growth phase will need you to wear multiple hats in your job (and do so with a smile). Although an investment banking career endows people with an astonishing range of skills in a short time frame, I know successful bankers who have had their eyes well and truly opened by the variety of new tricks they needed to learn in a start-up.
9. Don’t mention work-life balance
Negotiating too hard over pay is a tell-tale sign that you aren’t committed to a long-term career in fintech. Another one is when you start talking about work-life balance at job interviews. Most high-growth start-ups I know in Singapore don’t actually offer amazing work-life balance. They are working to tight timelines and there is now ferocious competition among local fintech companies to scale up rapidly.
Jay Abeyasinghe is manager of financial services hiring at recruitment firm Morgan McKinley in Singapore.
Image credit: NI QIN, Getty