How to make a stunningly successful career change in Asian banking

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Career change

Are you tired of working in your current job function in Asian banking? Is the labour market in your sector contracting because of redundancies or offshoring?

As we reported in December, there are still several job sectors in Singapore and Hong Kong that welcome candidates from other areas of banking.

Nevertheless, transferring into a new team is still notoriously difficult. We’ve complied some advice for those contemplating a career change in 2018.

Move internally

Banks in Asia are still under pressure from head offices to keep recruitment costs under control – it’s far less expensive to move people within their ranks than it is to poach them from a rival. “And within your own firm you have goodwill, reputation and credibility, so the risk associated with shifting into a new line of business is reduced,” says Nick Wells, a director at search firm Webber Chase in Singapore. “The more internal credit you generate, the better your chances – appeal as a person and team member rather than purely a CV or skill set.”

Or network externally in advance

“If there isn't any possibility of internal progression, approaching talent acquisition teams at other banks will get you on their radar in advance,” says Wells. “Build up a relationship with them directly to get to the top of their lists when they are hiring.”

Be a high performer

If you’re making a career change, you must first be (very) successful in your current department – banks will reason that star employees are less likely to fail in a new role. “You need to prove that you’re good in your job and in previous positions, and have stayed in roles for a sufficient length of time,” says Vince Natteri, director of recruitment at search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong.

Be experienced

Most career changes in Asian banking are made at the mid to senior level, says Ben Batten, country general manager of recruitment firm Volt in Singapore. “Having fundamental experience is imperative. Trying to move too early means you don’t have enough expertise within your initial area.”

Gather support from within

It will, of course, greatly aid you claim for a career change if you’re already speaking to a captive audience. Support from your existing manager is crucial if you’re moving within the same bank, so mention your ambitions well in advance of when you actually want to change jobs – don’t drop a last-minute bombshell that could leave your manager short staffed.

Provide clear reasons

If you’re talking to your current (or potential future) manager, make sure to articulate clear reasons – that benefit both you and the bank – for the proposed career change, says Batten. Better progression opportunities and a desire to gain additional skills are fundamental to most successful moves. Be sure to emphasise the attractions of the new job rather that the limitations of your current one.

Move to where there are overlapping technical skills

Middle-office jobs aren’t just in demand in Singapore and Hong Kong right now – the skills they require tend to be comparatively transferable. “The most obvious move is from internal audit to product control or financial control – which makes sense since much of the technical knowledge needed exists in both,” says Batten from Volt.

Work for an Asian bank

Local or Asian-focused banks like DBS and Standard Chartered have a successful track record of internal transfers – when you don’t pay as well as the bulge bracket, career progression is a key benefit. Stan Chart, for example, encourages staff to change jobs (and sometimes even departments) every two years. “For these banks it's a strategy to retain staff, to provide alternate career paths, and also to differentiate themselves from the competition,” explains Batten.

Don’t push for a pay rise

You may be plugging an important talent gap within the bank, but that won’t necessarily get you a pay rise. Because you don’t have all the skills to hit the ground running in the new role, you remain a relatively risky hire for the bank. The majority of movers have to settle for the same salary or even take a cut, warns Wells from Webber Chase.

Pre-empt any push-back

As well as knowing your own motivations, try to second guess why the bank may have doubts about your career change. If you can quash these concerns at job interviews, you'll stand a much better chance of getting the role.

Image credit: Grafner, Getty

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