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Pay rises at Singapore banks, but hiring spree is over as headcount falls by 534

Singapore banks

The hiring spree that saw Singapore’s three local banks increase their combined headcount by 1,272 people in 2015 came to an abrupt halt last year.

At the end of 2016, DBS, UOB and OCBC employed 534 fewer staff in total than they did 12 months previously, according to their full-year financial results.

“There’s certainly been no headcount freezes, but there’s been no big hiring drives either at the local players,” says one banking recruiter in Singapore who asked not to be named. “Global uncertainties and a slowing local economy made them more cautious in 2016.”

Although the banks all posted solid 2016 results and have strong balance sheets, their loan growth was either negative or low for most of last year.

DBS has been taking on a lot more contractors, however. Its 2016 results show that it had 505 on its books, up from just 21 the previous year.

The rise is due to “certain technology functions that were insourced as part of strategic cost management efforts”, according to DBS’ financial results.

While the other two firms don’t separate out their contract workers in their reports, recruiters in Singapore say all three local banks are belatedly boosting their contractor ranks.

“It’s something the global banks in Singapore started doing about four years ago when permanent headcount became harder to sign off,” says the recruiter. “In these economic conditions, the Singapore banks are now doing it too, mainly in tech.”

While Singapore banks may not be hiring as many permanent staff as they once did, they haven’t cut pay for current employees.

At DBS and OCBC, staff costs per head – total employee expenses (such as salaries and bonuses) divided by total headcount – are up by more than 4% year-on-year, as the table below shows.

DBS and OCBC have been integrating expensive wealth managers from the Asian private banking units they acquired from ANZ and Barclays respectively in 2016.

Compensation also continues to rise in talent-short middle-office functions such as compliance, risk and internal audit.

The table confirms DBS – which has smaller operations proportional to its overall business in lower-paid sectors such as retail banking and insurance – as by far the best paying Singapore bank.

Image credit: Tharakorn, Getty

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