While not everyone thinks that the push by Australia’s big four banks into Asia has been a resounding success, it has been paying off for jobseekers who are benefiting from aggressive strategies to establish strong operations spanning the entire region, staffed by growing teams in hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Australia’s four largest retail banks, which dominate 90% of the market, have been expanding into the wider Asian region in recent years, recognising that the history of excellent returns that have made these banks the most valuable in the world, would come to an end unless they found new revenue streams.
Recruiters, who asked not to be named, told eFinancialCareers that the banks were faced with a choice: an expensive move into Asia, which would require hefty start-up costs, or the alternative of eat or be eaten – aggressively go after rivals’ market share in the domestic market. This, said one, was problematic given that the four banks offered very similar products and services.
Criticism of ANZ boss Mike Smith’s ‘super regional’ strategy raised its head again this week, when the bank reported that returns from its investment in an Asia network were below those earned by the Australian business.
Smith remained steadfast in his commitment to the region, and while analysts were not so sure – such as JPMorgan, which had harsh words for Smith’s strategy – candidates have been reaping the rewards from the number of jobs being created in Singapore and other parts of Asia.
Recruiters, who asked not to be named, said that the Asia initiatives have paid off, particularly for ANZ, which was first out of the gates with a strong push into Asia, and more recently Westpac, which has also been making inroads with its Asia strategy.
Westpac, which has said it remains committed to Australia and New Zealand as its core markets, doubled headcount in Singapore in the last 18 months, said one consultant, “hiring key people in all the businesses where they are operating”.
He said that the bank had also been expanding in expanding into other key countries and cities in Asia including Mainland China and Hong Kong, building out its wholesale business.
National Australia Bank (NAB), said one recruiter, has suddenly stepped up its game in the region by moving senior executives to the Lion City in recent months, and poaching others, such as Neil Parekh, described by one recruiter as a ‘heavy hitter’ who had previously worked at Starin Capital and DBS.
Commonwealth Bank, the last of the Big Four Australian banks, had been less active than its rivals, with its investments in Asia – namely Indonesia and China – being described as providing a platform for growth but which “(had) progressed slow”.
The Big Four’s robust activity in Asian markets initially created a lot of opportunities for Australians to relocate to countries where new operations were being established by acquisition, joint ventures or organic growth.
But this was changing now, said one consultant, with ANZ and Westpac trying to hire the best people in each local markets, ideally people with local experience and local language skills.
“They are competing with the other foreign banks who also want to hire locals in each market. The difference is that whereas five or six years ago, local candidates would have laughed at you at the suggestion of going to work for an Aussie bank in Asia, the progress they have made has turned them into very viable career option.”
Surprisingly, despite stiff competition for people with good skills, Asian market experience, and language competencies, one consultant said salaries had been flat for the past two years, “except for the top guys, the business heads”.
“What we have been hearing from candidates is that they want to work for a bank that has a strong and proven growth strategy and they are prepared to sacrifice a 5-10% salary increase that they could get from an organisation that is moving laterally.”