Getting a financial services job in Asia Pacific doesn’t always depend on having a bulging book of local clients or vast millions of assets under management
As front-line investment bankers struggle to find work in the region, here are some decidedly less glamourous jobs that remain in demand.
If you want your nightlife to revolve around the office, try this job. Singapore’s status as a trading hub means banks there employ teams of trade-execution specialists covering US and European time zones. A 12-hour time difference between Singapore and New York means some of them work between 8:30pm and 5:30am.
Yet the role has its perks – for example, exposure to a wide range of products, and more autonomy than a colleague working regular hours, said Gerard Milligan, strategic account director at recruitment agency Randstad in Singapore. “It can also be a stepping stone to a more lucrative role as a trader, but the reality is terribly unsociable hours,” Milligan added. “They are often said to get none of the glory for a big trade, but are always rebuked if a trade is executed poorly.”
As life insurance firms in Asia bulk up their claims teams, they increasingly need experts who can assess the technical merits of claims, said Patrick Tan, managing director of Key International Search & Consulting in Singapore. “For example, an ideal situation would see a medical professional evaluate the extent of injury and determine the appropriate payout in return. By not overpaying on the claims, firms are better able to ensure competitive pricing for products,” he added.
In a high-cost location like Singapore, however, insurers find it difficult to lure well-paid local doctors and even nurses into claims roles. They instead look to relocate medical professionals from Asian countries where medical practitioners aren’t as affluent, said Tan. “Doctors and nurses from the Philippines are possibilities. I have recruited such candidates, especially the latter, for life insurance firms.”
How’s this for niche? Contractors for compliance positions in Australian financial planning are now sought after, according to Sarah Wapling, a principal at SFG Recruitment in Melbourne. It’s all because of a major new law, the Future of Financial Advice (FoFA), which came into force on July 1 and imposes new duties on financial planners giving advice to the public. “It’s a big undertaking to ensure that all advice staff are trained and adhering to the new regime, so there is an increase in demand for these short-term project-based positions,” Wapling said.
Some of Australia’s financial-planning groups view FoFA as a “necessary evil”, which forces them to staff up in risk and compliance at the expense of the front-line, she added. “But compliance contractors for FoFA have been difficult to find not just because the work doesn’t have a glamorous profile and is fixed term, but because they want very specific profiles: a legal background and experience of Australian financial services legislation.”
These people are the main assistants to a division head at a bank, supporting them in tasks such as staff training and appraisals, client presentations and reporting to senior management. “It’s usually underrated as it’s perceived to be a glorified PA or EA role – more administrative support than actual business focus,” said Angela Kuek, director of Singapore headhunters Meyer Consulting Group. “BM roles are not too senior – up to SVP level – so you cannot pull rank with the division head’s one-downs. And the role is very generalist in nature, you don’t hone any particular skills,” she added.
But being a beefed-up secretary does have its advantages, according to Kuek. “As you work closely with the business head, you get to know the latest happenings at first instance and can plan next moves with a longer lead time. A trusted BM is part of the head’s inner circle and can potentially move into a front-office role in a few years. Your visibility to senior management is also high, so this role can be a good stepping stone.”
Senior folk in this function are in demand as the Asian insurance sector expands, according to James Carss, Asia managing director at insurance recruiters Darwin Rhodes in Hong Kong. “Valuations is part of the lifeblood of a life company and any actuary that wants to be involved in M&As, regional strategy or become a chief actuary will need strong experience in this area to make informed decisions,” he said.
The number of Asia-based actuaries with more than eight years’ life-insurance valuations experience is limited, prompting employers to search globally for talent. “The valuations skills set is very transferrable internationally,” Carss said. “But actuaries from pricing and asset-liability management rarely move into valuations as the nature of the work is quite different."
Although many settlements roles have been moved to India and other low-cost locations, the vacancies that remain in Hong Kong are hard to fill – the recent history of offshoring has boosted their unglamorous status. “Not many candidates in Hong Kong are interested in this job because it’s seen as routine, and hours can be quite long,” said Marlene Chan, a senior consultant at headhunters Capital People in Hong Kong. “Some banks are not paying their employees well enough and are experiencing quite high turnover,” she added.
Chan believes it’s only a matter of time before the talent shortage eases. “Given the rather poor market conditions I think settlements can become popular again because many Hong Kong candidates will have to admit that it’s difficult for them to work in the front office, which is increasingly dominated by mainland Chinese.”
No list of unsexy banking jobs would be complete without internal audit – and right now in Asia these number crunchers are in demand. A talent shortage and competition for candidates are driving salary increases as high as 20% to 30% for those who change companies, according to Ben Batten, country general manager at recruiters Volt in Singapore. And you don’t need to be at a bank in Asia already to get a job – Big Four auditors and overseas-based job seekers are often considered.
“It can be a fairly dry role and lives up to its unglamourous reputation in that respect,” said Batten. “What many overlook, however, is that it’s an ideal training ground for candidates to progress into more senior management roles. You have unparalleled opportunities across the bank – developing relationships – that others in more mainstream teams don’t get access to.”