If you want a stable Asian banking career, look to job functions which remain comparatively free from front-office redundancies and back-office offshoring.
Job security in Singapore and Hong Kong, however, comes with a catch: the most stable roles are typically in under-staffed teams in which cost-conscious banks are ramping up the workloads of their current employees.
Here are seven banking careers in Asia that we’ve identified as stable but increasingly stressful.
There is an increasing amount of project work in the middle office – mostly with a regulatory focus, such as Dodd Frank and FATCA – and project teams are feeling stretched. "This has resulted in a large amount of staff turnover due to long working hours. Many of the staff are feeling stressed and feel that this stress won't be resolved in the short term," says Fiona Taylor, manager, at recruitment agency Michael Page in Hong Kong. "These staff have been moving into other parts of financial services, such as asset management or insurance, or looking for a new career change outside of projects. To alleviate immediate staffing issues, banks have been transferring people internally from the middle office, as well as internationally, and also putting on a number of contractors."
We’ve already highlighted the hotness of corporate banking relationship managers in Singapore. They are even more in demand in China as banks compete for lucrative domestic clients, especially state-owned enterprises and small to medium-sized private businesses. But finding enough new RMs in an expanding economy isn’t easy and the current crop are under pressure to expand their skills and deliver more sophisticated services. “For example, coal companies in China now want RMs to advise them on hedging strategies,” says Scott Cheung, managing consultant, corporate banking, at recruitment firm PSD Group. Before you start feeling too sorry for Chinese RMs, Cheung says they are often able to negotiate better pay with their current employers, who know that rivals are otherwise likely to poach them.
Client-onboarding and know-your-customer professionals in Asia are facing increased workloads and pressure to ensure they abide by new financial regulations, says Matthew Ng, divisional manager, banking and financial services, at recruiters Ambition in Singapore. “It’s a very busy sector. Banks remain focused on ensuring that information collected about customers fulfils onboarding and compliance obligations,” he says. “A shortage of local talent means there’s added pressure to find enough people to take up the workload, so more banks in Asia are now conducting global searches for onboarding professionals.”
As HR delegates at an eFinancialCareers roundtable in Singapore noted in April, internal recruitment (or “talent acquisition”) teams are busy at banks in Asia this year. “Most banks have around 30 or more jobs running per internal recruiter. And with an urgency to minimise costs, internal teams are getting busier by the day,” says Tanya Sinha, vice president, front office and compliance, at recruitment and HR-advisory firm Talent2 in Singapore. It’s not uncommon for internal recruiters to have to fill 100% of vacancies at a junior level. “They are also busy managing employee referrals and internal-mobility candidates, and partnering with the business for the more niche, challenging and senior-level roles, at least for the initial stages,” says Sinha.
Last month we reported that banks in Asia are hiring heavily in this function and moving staff from other jobs into operational-risk roles. This hasn’t, however, alleviated the pressure faced by existing ops-risk staff. “More in-depth reviews by regulators mean that there are increased workloads over and above business-as-usual tasks,” says Yimin Lam, senior consultant, financial services risk, at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore. “In recent times, the biggest banking losses have been due to ops-risk events. It’s no longer viewed as a passive tick-the-boxes function, so many teams are re-skilling, with risk managers working closely with the frontline to pre-empt risks. But while they are feeling stretched, people are not looking to leave the function because of this.”
Global banks are largely keeping skilled finance roles onshore in Singapore and Hong Kong, even as they offshore processing-based operations jobs to lower-cost Asian locations. In fact, the business upheaval caused by offshoring has created extra work for number-crunchers. “Many banks are still expanding their finance teams in Hong Kong, using it as a China hub,” says Jake Bridge, APAC contracts director at recruiters Phaidon International. “And with more in-depth regulatory reporting requirements in finance, junior to mid-level professionals within core-accounting functions are taking on more regional responsibilities from Hong Kong and Singapore. Professionals with niche skills, in treasury, taxation and internal audit, are under particular pressure.” Banks are responding by ramping up their use of contractors, adds Bridge.
Transaction bankers, particular those in trade finance, are in demand in Singapore, but banks in the city state are at least able to recruit from a fairly healthy talent pool. In China, where finding new staff is more difficult, the workloads of existing transaction bankers are mounting. “Transaction bankers must provide an integrated banking solution to help their clients grow – understanding their business vision,” says Jason Tan, a partner at search firm Being & Associates in Shanghai. “They then need to coordinate internally with units such as trade, securities services and cash management to deliver an innovative financial solution to a client.”