Shock in Singapore as back-office salaries surge by up to 34%

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After years in the doldrums, pay for back-office banking staff in Singapore is on the up again – and the increases are unexpectedly high.

We looked through the new Singapore salary survey from recruiters Robert Walters to find out how 2018 base salaries (we averaged out the low and high pay marks) compare with 2017 across more than 50 financial services jobs. The vast majority of job functions – from compliance to credit risk – have suffered stagnating pay year-on-year in Singapore, but operations roles are a significant exception.

The table below reveals percentage salary hikes for back-office professionals working in 12 different fields within Singapore financial services. Aside from private banking, they have all enjoyed inflation-beating rises. While the table contains AVP-level figures only, the Robert Walters data in the analyst/associate and VP/director ranges shows a similar upward trend.

This is a big turnaround. After establishing itself as an operations hub for global banks like Credit Suisse and Barclays before the financial crisis, Singapore then fell victim to continued offshoring as the same firms moved roles to lower-cost markets, in particular India. Back-office pay rises were subdued for at least the last five years because of a surplus of candidates in the wake of the relocations.

Over the past 12 months, however, offshoring has tapered off as banks have begun to reach their desired headcount levels in Singapore (jobs that face the front-office, clients or regulators have typically stayed in the city state). At the same time, previously unemployed operations professionals have gradually moved into other positions, such as internal audit, and are no longer flooding the job market.

“This means that the operations people who are left in the country are now more valued by the banks, so demand for them has recently gone up, and so have their salaries,” says Singapore-based Farida Charania, group CEO of search firm Nastrac Group.

Singapore’s largest banking employers – DBS, OCBC, UOB, Citi and Standard Chartered chief among them – are doing most of the operations recruitment, although much of it is to replace staff who leave, not to add new headcount.

Where can you get the best pay rises in the Singapore back office? As a rule, they are in the sectors where ops salaries have been weak until recently (e.g. securities and commodities) and have therefore increased from a lower base.

Toward the bottom of our table, you’ll find fields in which demand for talent has stayed strong even through the offshoring boom, including specialists in data, change management and client onboarding. Salaries were already comparatively high for these professionals a year ago, so they had less scope to get large increases in 2018. Support staff within Singapore’s buoyant private banking sector have long been sought after and average pay for them didn’t inch up this year.

The survey data suggests that salaries are evening out across the back office as previously poorly-paid functions catch up with the likes of private banking. While last year the gap between the worst-paid and best-paid operations job was $35k ($93k vs $128k), now it’s just $8k ($125k vs $133k).

Image credit: golero, Getty

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