Singaporean banks are both expanding their headcounts and increasing their ability to attract the best candidates – a rare example of equilibrium in the Asian banking job market.
Recruiters in Singapore say that this post-bonus season more candidates than ever are calling them about jobs at the city state’s three local banks, DBS, OCBC and UOB.
Financial stability and a tendency not to offshore jobs provide the backbone of their popularity. DBS, OCBC and UOB were ranked the world’s third, four and fifth “safest” commercial banks respectively in a September 2013 survey by Global Finance magazine, which mainly evaluated banks’ long-term credit ratings.
But it’s the recent steady stream of expansionist news – from positive 2013 earnings results to the announcement this month that DBS is buying Societe Generale’s Asian private banking business – that is helping pique the interest of candidates who might have otherwise gone for a global bank.
Meanwhile, even in-house recruiters at international banks in Singapore – including, as we noted last month, Deutsche Bank – admit that local banks are now key competitors when it comes to hiring.
If the renewed swagger of Singaporean banks has put them on your career radar recently, here are some tips to snare a job at one of them.
Singaporean banks are not a refuge for bankers who’ve recently been trimmed from Western banks due to underperformance. “Singaporean banks are currently in a very strong position, often able to cherry pick top talent from the foreign banks in Singapore, not the underperformers,” says Craig Brewer, a director at recruiters Five Ten Group in Singapore. Recent poaching examples include Bank of Singapore, the private wealth arm of OCBC, hiring Adriel Loh, a former Union Bancaire Privee MD, as global head of compliance.
By contrast, do send your CV to Singaporean banks if your role has been axed through no fault of your own. As international banks continue to offshore IT and operations jobs away from expensive Singapore, the local banks – who want to keep their back-office hubs in the same country as their headquarters – are keen to hoover up the best talent in these fields, according to recruiters. “In the current climate they have a reputation as being safe places to work,” says Brewer.
As we reported last month, Singaporean banks are hiring relationship managers in corporate banking, while DBS Private Bank is expected to need more RMs following the Soc Gen takeover in Q4. “The local banks are also finding it hard to grow talent in compliance, as few senior people are available internally with these skills,” says Farida Charania, chief executive officer, banking and finance, at Singapore-based search firm Nastrac Group. “The job market in compliance is not that mature and some of the requirements across Basel III and FATCA implementation are pretty recent – hence there is big demand and less supply.”
Domestic experience and clients can obviously help get you a role at a Singaporean bank, but all three firms are also hiring across Asia. And as Boey Yin Chong, managing director of syndicated finance at DBS, told us last year, knowledge of regional markets is also increasingly important for Singapore-based roles. In March alone, DBS announced it was expanding its small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) banking business into China, India and Indonesia, while OCBC, which already counts Malaysia and Indonesia as core markets, revealed its plans for China and continued its negotiations to buy Hong Kong’s Wing Hang Bank. UOB is also expanding abroad and last year set up an advisory unit in Jakarta.
Singapore is a multicultural city state – both in its local and foreign-born population – and the workforce of its banks is equally diverse. “The ability to culturally fit in very quickly will certainly be helpful, and candidates who have worked across geographies with several cultures do find it easier,” says Charania.
Don’t equate local with lax when it comes to office environments and dress code. DBS, for example, moved into a swanky new tower in the Marina Bay Financial Centre in 2012 – its offices come complete with Google-esque “consultation pods” and a “social hub”. And when interviewing with a Singaporean bank, put extra effort into your appearance, including your accessories. “Singaporean culture is very visual and even unpolished shoes or frayed bags are quickly noticed, so be careful,” warns Charania.
Singaporean banks are generally good at retaining senior bankers – even ones they inherit from the firms they acquire. When OCBC took over ING Asia Private Bank in 2010 to create Bank of Singapore it held onto most of ING’s bankers. As we noted in an interview last year, Marc Van de Walle, a former ING veteran who is now global head of wealth products at BoS, enjoyed a smooth transition. DBS expects to keep the majority of Soc Gen’s Asian staff on board when their private banks merge later this year.
“Generally speaking – there are always exceptions – we find that DBS, Singapore’s biggest bank, is the most open to considering non-local candidates, especially if they have some regional experience,” says a recruiter in Singapore with knowledge of the firm, who asked not to be named. “While they look locally first, they are open to searching outside of Singapore to get the best people.”
Like the international firms in Singapore, the three local banks are trying to do more of their recruitment in-house. “This is especially true for mid-level hiring, so keep an eye on their career pages,” says Charania.