Chinese New Year is over. And that means we’re now in the season where more finance professionals in Singapore and Hong Kong will actually be resigning rather than just thinking about it.
But as we enter the Year of the Goat, the traditionally busy period for hiring in Asia isn’t quite the same as it was 12 months ago. [efc_twitter text="We’ve identified eight of the main differences in the Asian job market that you need to be aware of"].
Recent months have seen a relentless flow of negative news about the four largest UK banks in Asia. Standard Chartered is closing down its equities division, with about 100 job losses in Hong Kong alone, RBS is preparing to withdraw from Asian corporate banking, Barclays is still winding up the Asian job cuts it started last year, and Stuart Gulliver, the Hong Kong-domiciled HSBC chief executive, is among those embroiled in his firm’s Swiss banking scandal. “This has prompted candidates to be more cautious when exploring opportunities at some foreign banks as job stability continues to be an important consideration,” says Patricia Teo, a financial services consultant at recruiters Kerry Consulting in Singapore.
It’s not only Singaporean banks that are becoming more popular with candidates in Singapore and Hong Kong. Recruiters in both cities say that more candidates than last year are applying for jobs or asking about future opportunities at Asian banks in general, with the possible exception of Malaysian firms in the wake of the failed CIMB-RHB merger. “With the consistent upward trend in performance of most local and regional Asian banks over the last years, we have seen interest towards them increase,” says Teo. “And successful recent cases of candidates from foreign banks assimilating well into local banks have mitigated some concerns about company-cultural differences.”
Fears about slowing global and regional economic growth have made banks more cautious about their Asian hiring – speed is not of the essence. “In 2014, banks were more actively recruiting before the Chinese New Year period, which got candidates new jobs starting in April,” explains Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore. “This year there’ve been fewer early interviews – hiring seems to be picking up only now, which might delay new joiners and see them starting later in Q2.”
Singapore’s Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) – a regulation which encourages employers to prioritise local candidates for at least two weeks before taking applications from abroad – has been in force for about six months. Recruiters are now seeing a fall in junior overseas-based finance professionals moving to Singapore as the FCF is targeted at jobs paying less than S$144k (US$106k). “This time last year we saw foreign candidates coming into Singapore across various levels, even including some at a junior level. But this year the moves are expected to be restricted to senior people,” says Charania. The FCF doesn’t apply to roles above the income threshold or to international transfers within the same company.
Last year we reported on an uptick in contract positions at banks in Hong Kong and Singapore, driven mainly by regulatory-implementation, IT-upgrading and offshoring projects. Now candidates in Asia are starting to shed their traditional reluctance to these roles. “We’re definitely seeing an upsurge in the number of people who are willing to consider contract jobs as compared to this time last year,” says Will Russell, director of recruiters Ambition in Singapore. “The contingency market in Singapore is growing rapidly and employers are offering more financially to attract and retain contractors.”
Asian compliance recruitment in the Year of the Horse was large-scale and focused on compliance generalists, with banks plugging talent shortage by transferring staff from other departments and taking talent from the Big Four and the regulators. Teo from Kerry Consulting says that although compliance headcount will rise this year, more of the vacancies will be niche ones in areas such as finance crime, sanction audits and anti-money laundering. “We’re now seeing further specialisation within compliance departments – candidates in Asia with direct expertise in these segments are in strong demand and typically have several job opportunities at any point in time.”
We’ve already noted a surge in investment bankers applying to boutique advisory firms in Asia – and there’s a similar trend in wealth management. “I’m seeing more bankers become open to smaller, more flexible houses than in previous years,” says Rahul Sen, head of private wealth management at search firm The Omerta Group in Singapore. “Some senior bankers are tired of the rigidity and politics of the big private banks – for example, the big banks have become stricter on cross-border travel restrictions. Bankers are keen to move to firms that are more flexible and still have a reasonably good product platform.”
Banks in Asia have been outsourcing some of their IT operations for several years – but only now is the IT-vendor sector emerging as a stable, long-term career alternative to an in-house fintech role. Deutsche Bank, for example, announced in September that in 2015 it would outsource its entire Singaporean wealth-management back-office to Swiss company Avaloq. “These outsourced deals may appear short-term and cyclical, but the cost of running an in-house IT team is becoming larger and larger, especially as banks try to keep up with new regulatory reporting requirements,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner of recruiters KS Consulting in Singapore. “This year is a good one to look at working for the bigger banking vendors like Misys or Avaloq as they look to grow their business in Asia.”