It’s now a cliché in Asian recruitment circles: the job markets in Singapore and Hong Kong have become “more mature” over the past five years. Banks have stopped building out their back-office hubs in the two cities and large-scale recruitment has been replaced by selective, cautious and increasingly localised hiring.
With banks raising the standards of their recruitment, it’s now becoming more difficult to forge a successful career in Singapore or Hong Kong without a healthy dose of so-called “soft skills”. Essentially this means you need to be the type of person who enjoys not only communicating with colleagues and clients, but influencing them and the decisions they make.
Soft skills aren’t only needed in the front-line of investment banking – recruiters in Asia say that banks are increasingly dropping them into job descriptions for a wide range of roles. Below we highlight five banking jobs in which soft skills are becoming more critical to career success.
The back office
As banks offshore some of their back-office jobs away from Singapore and Hong Kong and into lower-cost Asian locations like India and the Philippines, operations roles still based in the two cities increasingly require plenty of interaction with the business. “Offshoring means employers are more stringent in selecting candidates for their onshore operations function in Singapore and are looking for soft-skill competencies during interviews,” says Evelyn Lee, manager of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore.
She adds: “Banks now want back-office people who are personable and able to engage in discussions with senior stakeholders and management – confident candidates who are able to provide structured answers during interviews. Those who can demonstrate stronger communication skills will also be more able to advance into a middle-office function, where there is high demand for talent.”
The need for fintech professionals who can talk the talk with the business continues to increase. “Development-operations positions, for example, used to only focus on technical skills, now there’s demand for candidates who also possess the communication skills of a business analyst,” says Joanna Tan, an associate consultant at recruiters Astbury Marsden in Singapore. “It’s a major cost-cutting measure because IT consultants with exceptional soft skills are more efficient – they can code and develop and at the same time deal with stakeholders.”
“One hiring manager I know is looking for candidates for a development-engineer job who exhibit ‘fortitude’ – mental strength and the confidence to handle difficult situations,” explains Tan. “The role entails gathering requirements from end-users who might not translate their needs into something easily understood. Someone with fortitude will have the courage to face off with difficult stakeholders and emerge victorious in understanding requirements and creating the perfect solution for the bank.”
The new breed of product controllers need to have strong stakeholder and project-management skills, says Vi-Linh Ha, a senior consultant in banking & financial services at recruitment firm Ambition in Singapore. “This is because these roles are no longer purely focused on day-to-day functions, but often involve projects such as system enhancements, new implementations and migrations.”
“Product control candidates also have to display good communications skills as they have the oversight of their trading desks and they need to liaise with various functions across the bank – operations, IT, front office, finance, risk, compliance – in relation to issues for their desks,” adds Ha. “It’s difficult to source such people as most employers also require them to be strong in their specific product knowledge, which tightens the candidate pool further.”
Junior commodities trading
You'll need more than an abundance of swagger to make it as a junior trader in Asia these days. “Leadership and teamwork are important at this level often as juniors must communicate information effectively between sales and trading teams and ensure effective information flow with various other departments,” says Adrian Osula, head of Asian commodities sales and trading at recruiters Selby Jennings. “When you’re not the sole contributor and you must assist more senior peers, soft skills are important for effective team performance, but also for character building for future promotion opportunities.”
As junior traders help calculate risk and monitor/execute positions, their jobs also require a “high sense of personal accountability”, adds Osula. “A senior trader will put a lot of trust into their desk assistants or junior traders, so while their technical ability is important, the attitude they bring to interactions with clients, customers, colleagues and supervisors can ultimately increase team performance and yield better results.”
Relationship management at boutique banks
“While relationship management has always required networking skills, in today’s market these skills have become even more important. Nearly every private bank in Singapore now wants to increase its market share and as Singaporeans are generally quite brand conscious, it’s difficult to convince high-net-worth individuals to switch their wealth from a top-tier private bank into a boutique one,” says Chris Mead, regional director of recruitment company Hays in Singapore.
“When banks hire relationship managers (RMs) they often have high expectations about how many assets under management (AUM) they will bring with them. But often these expectations aren’t met because the clients have a relationship with the previous bank, not with the RM,” adds Mead. “Bankers who have mastered their networking skills are better able to turn client/bank relationships into individual connections and are more successful in bringing over a higher percentage AUM.”