You might want to call a recruitment agency in Singapore or Hong Kong about a job…as one of their own employees. Recruitment firms who mainly hired experienced recruiters when they first opened in Asia – in a bid to generate quick business – are now keen to hear from former finance professionals.
The Singapore office of recruiters Hydrogen, for example, has hired six banking professionals in just the past 12 months, a much higher number than in previous years, says associate director Adam Solomons.
“As most recruitment firms do when they first set up, we focused on hiring people with recruitment experience, who on paper were expected to do well. However, when we assessed patterns of success we realised that people from the banking industry tended to do better,” says Solomons.
Recruitment companies in Asia say they will increasingly struggle to expand if they rely only on the limited pool of people already working as recruiters. Solomons has been interviewing for in-house jobs over the past three months and has “lost count” of the number of recruiters who “don’t even know their market or their clients”.
“By contrast, when we hire from banks, they know first-hand the level of service a client needs to receive,” he explains. “They also come with a network of people, so they can hit the ground running. And they can build credibility because they know the industry.”
Search firms (who headhunt candidates rather than inviting applications, and tend to have a more senior, specialised focused than the larger recruitment agencies) also need to poach more people from banks to meet their own staffing needs. In contrast to Western markets, the growth of the headhunting sector has been a relatively recent phenomenon in Asia, leaving experienced search talent thin on the ground.
“Coming directly from banking can be a huge advantage in many areas: understanding the jobs, speaking the same lingo as candidates and hiring managers, and knowing the dynamics and changes in the industry,” adds Liu San Li, an ex-Coutts banker, now head of private wealth management at I-Search Worldwide in Singapore. “And recruitment expertise is much easier to pick up than banking knowledge.”
The bankers who want to be recruiters
Fortunately for recruitment and search companies alike, their need for more finance talent coincides with a recent rise in redundancies at banks in Asia. Barclays is expected to cut at least 150 jobs across its front and back-office in Singapore alone, for example.
“I’ve certainly seen a recent surge in banking professionals wanting to be recruiters,” says Gary Lai, managing director for Southeast Asia at recruitment firm Charterhouse Partnership. “Many bankers have now just seen too many layoffs. They’re considering a career change and recruitment has become a top choice as many believe that instead of worrying whether they’ll still have a job down the line, they’d prefer helping others get jobs by leveraging their contacts.”
But banking professionals in Asia aren’t just turning to recruitment because they’ve lost their jobs or fear imminent layoffs. Most of Hydrogen’s new recruiters came from stable functions – client relationship management technology, operations, compliance and audit – that have largely escaped redundancies.
Some people are instead turning to recruitment because they are too stressed in their banking jobs. As we noted last year, burnout is a problem now affecting even secure and sought-after jobs like compliance in Asia. “While the recruitment industry in Singapore is competitive, we’ve found that more young finance professionals are finding the current climate too tough to stick with banking, and they want a career where their success is defined by their output and not by how long they’ve been in the business,” says Solomons.
Liu from I-Search Worldwide says relationship managers in private banking and priority banking typically turn to recruitment when they can’t handle the “continuous AUM and revenue pressure”.
Recruitment is not without its own stresses, of course. “Don’t even bother becoming a headhunter unless you can really sell. You have to be a hard-core salesman at heart,” says former Merrill Lynch banker Rahul Sen, now a headhunter at The Omerta Group in Singapore.
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