If you want a compliance job in Singapore or Hong Kong, vacancies are increasingly opening up beyond the traditional sectors of investment banking and corporate banking. Private banking is fast emerging as the place to forge a (well-paid and stable) compliance career.
Private banking, traditionally seen as a lucrative part of financial services that carried a lower credit risk and was subject to fewer controls, has not escaped recent regulatory attention. Initiatives such as Dodd-Frank and the Basel accords have forced private banks to keep up with a myriad of new rules. Increased transparency has been demanded and (together with the strengthening of anti-money laundering measures) banking secrecy in offshore financial centres is becoming a thing of the past.
One of the more obvious changes is the increasing accountability on banks to ensure their customers’ wealth is legitimately acquired. There are more stringent client on-boarding process and ongoing monitoring and surveillance of existing high-net-worth clients. The procedure to get investment products approved is also more stringent, while increased transaction reporting and closer scrutiny of suitability of investment recommendations is expected.
To avoid breaching these new regulations, which can be caused by ignorance rather than deliberate neglect, private banks in Asia – the world’s fastest growing region for private wealth – are currently increasing their hiring for compliance jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong.
In short, US and European private banks are shifting their focus to Asian markets at the same time as regulators here are beefing up controls to comply with international standards. But right now the supply of candidates is tight in Hong Kong and Singapore, given that private banks have been expanding both rapidly and recently.
Compliance professionals are therefore moving from investment banks (products compliance / AML compliance) into private banks. This skill set is directly transferable – although private banks usually cover a wider range of asset classes so some learning will be involved.
The structure of private-banking compliance is still relatively lean and therefore the chance of redundancy is relatively low. As teams tend to be small, however, you may need to assume multiple roles and get used to small-team dynamics, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The surging demand for private banking compliance jobs has driven up salary levels, especially at VP to director level. We are observing 20% to 30% increases on base salaries if you change companies. Some people have also recently managed to secure a guaranteed bonus, such is the lack of talent in the current market.
In summary, private banks in Hong Kong and Singapore typically want compliance candidates who:
Know the local regulators: Most compliance jobs in Asia demand experience dealing with the likes of HKMA, MAS, SFC and MPFA. It is important for candidates to understand current and upcoming regulatory trends as well as the proper ways of handling local regulatory enquiries.
Know the products: Strong product knowledge is required mainly because private banks offer a particularly wide range of financial products and it’s crucial to understand the inherent and potential risks of each one.
Know the detailed requirements: Keep up with the changes in governing regulations, written policies and procedures, and conduct, disclosure and investment guidelines. For this kind of due diligence, experts with backgrounds in forensic accounting and financial fraud investigation are much in demand in Asia.
Know how to communicate: As local and global regulations tighten, there could be stronger conflicts between the business and compliance in the future. Banks want people who can communicate effectively to sales teams about the importance of following new procedures. Compliance officers also need to educate senior management about the changing regulatory environment to ensure that the bank can react promptly.
Winnie Leung is an associate director at Pure Search in Hong Kong.