Back-office careers in Singapore and Hong Kong are not what they once were.
In the space of five years, the cities have gone from being offshoring destinations to victims of offshoring themselves as global banks shift operations roles to lower-cost markets like India. Business-as-usual operations positions have been most affected as technology also threatens their existence.
But there is hope if you think your back-office job is on the line. Recruiters have seen an up-tick this year in people leaving operations roles for other functions within banking.
Here’s how to make a career change away from operations.
Many operations professionals wrongly assume that applying to another bank – where they will supposedly be given clean slate – is the easiest way to change careers. But as a rule, it’s best to consider opportunities at own firm first. Several banks in Asia, notably DBS and Standard Chartered, run programmes which encourage employees to apply for positions in other departments. “It’s tough this year to move externally to a new function; it’s more common to move internally,” says Dhanushi De Silva, a banking operations consultant at Morgan McKinley. “I’m seeing more banks, for example Bank of America, promoting internally mobility for good operations people.”
“I’ve seen some internal moves this year from BAU operations into business analyst and project management roles at banks,” says Richard Aldridge, a director at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore. The key to landing this career change, says Aldridge, is showing that you already have good relationships with the front office and have a broad “institutional knowledge”. In other words: you understand how the bank operates as a whole.
“The operations people I’ve seen move into project management had already been involved in finance or operations projects before they changed careers,” says Rhoda Rivera, manager of financial services at recruiters Ambition in Hong Kong. “They’d made a conscious decision to develop their careers onto a PM path.”
Think it’s easier to transition out of the back office when you’re senior and your CV is bulging with skills? Not necessarily – your experience could pigeonhole you. “There are fewer and fewer roles in the back office in Asia and more and more candidates,” says De Silva. “People who’ve been doing the same function in operations for a while will find it toughest to change careers. It’s easier for juniors to move as they’re seen as more adaptable.”
What are some of the hot career moves in Asian banking this year? For starters, try searching for jobs in collateral management. You will essentially be moving financial products between two trading counterparties to cover the exposure of the underlying portfolio (click here for more details). De Silva says she recently moved a financial-market operations candidate into a collateral management job at another bank. “It’s hard to find junior collateral management people as it’s a new and growing function, so the bank was more flexible on the skills. Instead of direct experience, it looked for product knowledge, communication skills and motivation.”
“I’ve seen banking operations candidates take up operational risk roles this year,” says Rebecca Chan, a director at recruiters Michael Page in Hong Kong. “Usually these career changes are related to past work experience, for example the candidates have KYC skills.”
If you can’t change careers within your current bank, you may need to downgrade yourself. “If you’re genuinely interested in switching careers, be prepared to join a smaller house and take a pay cut,” says Pan Zaixian, general manager of recruitment firm Kerry Consulting in Singapore. “Trying to preserve your income and find an employer who will hire you on your existing terms – when you have no direct experience – is always going to be challenging. You have to take a one step back to move two steps forward.”
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