Compliance hiring in Singapore and Hong Kong has fallen by a quarter in just two years as contracts run out, banks focus on specialist roles and technology takes over jobs.
Led by Citi, Standard Chartered and HSBC, banks in the two cities recruited hundreds into their middle offices between 2012 and 2015, some of whom took fixed-term contracts to work on urgent remedial compliance projects.
Many of these contracts are not being renewed as they now come to an end, says Jessica Chau, director of compliance at G.R.A.C.E. Recruitment. “As some projects come closer to finishing, the immediate need for compliance staff has reduced. Contractors who exceeded expectations get the chance to stay, but a lot have been cut.”
It’s not only contractors who have been affected as the Asian compliance job market sours. Vacancy levels across the sector have slumped by about 25% compared with 2015, says Duncan Kennedy, Hong Kong manager at Eames Consulting Group. While compliance hiring is still strong in insurance, banks in Asia have now largely met their headcounts needs, he adds.
Meanwhile, the generalist (and more plentiful) hiring of the recent past has given way to more niche recruitment, including in financial crime compliance and in regulatory compliance focused on equities, fixed income and other products.
“Two years ago, when there was a shortage of candidates, banks hired staff who had good experience and could manage teams but didn’t have a deep enough understanding of regulatory changes,” says Kennedy. “Banks now need senior specialist staff who can ensure adherence to specific regulatory developments.”
Chau says 70% of the Asian compliance jobs that her firm handles are now at the mid or senior level.
“This year compliance departments in Asia are also letting go of below-average performers, especially those on inflated salaries who were hired during the recruitment frenzy a few years ago,” says Chau. “Banks are looking to rationalise themselves and to use their current teams in the most efficient way.”
“Regtech and automation have also been replacing manpower, while the fear around the potential of regulatory fines has dropped over the last two years,” adds Pathay Singh, managing director of recruitment agency Compliance Grid in Hong Kong. “After the initial splurge, compliance costs in Asia are now under the microscope.”
Still, compliance professionals in Hong Kong and Singapore are more sought after than many other job seekers in the banking sector. Banks may be trimming underperformers and not adding new headcount, but they continue to replace most employees who leave of their own accord.
“The initial compliance boom was a result of the remedial efforts of banks, following some hefty fines. But compliance remains one of the hottest areas in the job market, where qualified candidates are still in high demand and come at a premium,” says Nishita Mohnani, a senior consultant at recruiters Hays in Hong Kong.
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