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Opportunities abound in booming markets

Published on Sunday, 06 Oct 2013
Illustration: Martin Megino
Simon Topping
James Purdie

Rising costs have been forcing many banks and other financial institutions in Hong Kong to move back-office operations from Central to less expensive parts of town. Others are moving their back-office operations out of the city altogether, heading to India, Malaysia or the Philippines, where English standards are high.

In this regard, Singapore holds a certain edge. Not only are English standards high, the city-state also has a large number of people that speak Mandarin fluently – and Mandarin is an increasingly important asset.

English, in fact, is no longer the universal language of banking and finance in Asia. Companies are increasingly seeking candidates with foreign language skills. Mandarin and Korean are among the languages most in demand by recruiters. An exception is Vietnam, where fluency in Vietnamese is essential.

Auditing firms are expanding their operations throughout Asia, which is generally seen as a spot where money can still be made. China, meanwhile, is experiencing the most explosive growth in the region.

“KPMG and the other big auditing firms continue to grow,” says Simon Topping, principal of the consulting division and head of financial services regulation for Asia-Pacific at KPMG. “We are still expanding into different parts of China. Every six months or so, one of the big auditing firms opens a new office.”

Asia, however, is highly diverse, and there is no common denominator when it comes to banking and finance. “It’s a mixed bag,” says James Purdie, managing director of ConnectedGroup in Singapore. “There is no clear theme. Different banks are recruiting in different areas. A lot of banks are focusing on their key strengths instead of trying to be the jack of all trades.”

Overall, the job market within financial services has been relatively stable over the past 12 to 18 months. “Hiring into key job functions such as risk, compliance, audit and general corporate governance still continues at a brisk pace,” says John Mullally, associate director for financial services at Robert Walters Hong Kong. “In terms of specific industries, consumer banking – particularly private banking – commercial banking and corporate banking remain comparatively active in their hiring [compared with] investment banks.”

Mark Ellwood, managing director for Southeast Asia at Robert Walters, says that in Singapore, the highest areas of banking demand and growth remain in niche skill-set areas such as risk and compliance.

“In front-office banking, we see demand for candidates in the areas of retail, commercial, corporate and Islamic banking in Malaysia. However, investment banking has shown the least activity. In the middle- and back-office functions, professionals are sought after in the areas of legal and compliance, finance and treasury management, credit risk and credit evaluations, project management, and operations,” he says.

He adds that the job market for banking in Indonesia is very strong as the country has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia. “Its growth is mainly due to the strong domestic economy. In addition, a large number of foreign investors are attracted to have a presence in Indonesia. Hence, demand for financial services and products keeps on growing, and this has led to a lot more employment opportunities,” he says.

Outside influence continue to have an impact in the country. “Global banking conditions have also impacted the foreign banks here as global restructuring of the organisations meant they had to do the same in Indonesia i.e. to restructure and to fill the opportunities internally,” Ellwood says. “Fortunately, only very few banks were impacted by this.”

So what are the hottest jobs?

“Banks in Singapore are actively seeking candidates skilled in compliance and risk, in particular those with relevant experience in other Asian countries,” Ellwood says. “Malaysian banks seek bankers in client coverage – such as relationship management – who are well-acquainted with corporate lending and investment banking products and services. Banks also seek regional investment bankers who have experience in cross-border transactions.”

The areas with the most movement in Vietnam are investment management, asset management and securities.

“Candidates are required to have a proven track record in investment banking, capital market and corporate finance,” Ellwood says. “If overseas professionals are considering a position in Vietnam, they would need to speak Vietnamese or have been in the country for at least a couple of years. This would enable them to better spot the gaps in the markets for potential investment opportunities.”

Banks in Indonesia are looking for professionals with strong exposure to retail banking, commercial banking, corporate banking, wholesale banking and insurance are highly sought.

“Specialists with investment banking background and private equity have more limited opportunities due to the small investment banking and private equity market in Indonesia,” Ellwood says. “In Thailand, relationship management and credit analysis skills are most in demand as well as niche skills in compliance, tax and finance.”

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