I’ve read countless surveys about why banking professionals change jobs, and the typical reasons always crop up: better work-life balance at the new firm, a big step-up in rank and responsibility etc etc. Very rarely do people actually say they’re motivated by pay and bonuses.
But when I speak to candidates in Singapore in my role as a headhunter, it’s an entirely different story. Money isn’t just on their wish list; it’s often the number-one driver in their job hunt.
I don’t recruit junior middle-office people with justifiable aspirations to move banks for a salary increase; I deal with senior bankers who already command high compensation. Nevertheless, it’s pay that gets them going.
And I think this is much more so for bankers in Singapore than for their counterparts in Hong Kong, where I also work. The culture in Singapore is that asking for a big pay hike is okay – it’s prestigious and a sign of success – while North Asian bankers tend to be more conservative.
When I spoke at a conference in Singapore recently and touched upon this, banks were officially tight lipped and maintained that their new recruits come on board for a variety of wholesome reasons. But when I spoke with three senior bankers at the bar after the conference, they all admitted that they’d only change banks if the money were a lot better. How much more? I recently worked with a candidate who said he needed a 40% uplift in base pay at his next employer.
The bank really wanted this guy, so it offered him 35% – that’s a huge increase in the current market. But you know what? He turned it down. That’s how stubborn bankers in Singapore can be when it comes to pay. And this can come at a cost to their careers, if other factors about the job suggest they should actually move.
The banks I work with in Singapore officially say that they don’t want to hire money-motivated people and that their recruitment processes filter them out anyway. But in the end, they can’t ignore the majority of the talent pool.
You only need to look at the CVs of many of the hiring managers to see why – they’ve often changed jobs after only a few years, each time for a big rise. They’re part of the candidate culture in Singapore themselves.
Lucinda Ong (we have used a pseudonym to protect her identity) is a front-office headhunter in Asia.
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