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Spreading the money

Published on Friday, 06 Jun 2014
Illustration: Martin Megino
Hamidah Naziadin
Sharon Cheng

Asia’s booming banks are seeking the right talent to drive expansion beyond their home region

Accelerating trade, both within Asia and between it and the rest of the world, is creating opportunities for Asian banks to expand. Rising corporate cross-border deals and high-level investments are driving the region's leading banks to grow their footprint and extend operations overseas.

China Construction Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China are among Chinese banks actively eyeing business purchases and other opportunities overseas. Beijing-based Agricultural Bank of China opened a branch in New York in 2012. Bank of China (BOC) has had a branch in New York since 1981. Last year, BOC opened a branch in Montreal, its 11th in Canada, and its first branch in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

In the Philippines, local banks are scrambling to raise capital and expand in preparation for a regional banking integration agreement among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that will be fully implemented by 2020. The biggest banks in Indonesia and Thailand - led by Bank Mandiri and Bangkok Bank - are likewise eyeing new branches across the burgeoning region.

Malaysia's CIMB has been on an aggressive expansion drive since 2005. Today, the bank has grown into a universal bank that enjoys a strong foothold in Asean and reaches out to the world's major economic centres. The bank has more than 1,000 branches spread across the region and presence in 17 markets worldwide.

"Our expansion to other Asian markets is predominantly to facilitate the trade and deal flows between Asean and its principal trading regions in Asia, namely China and Greater China, North Asia (excluding Japan), Australia and South Asia," says Hamidah Naziadin, group chief people officer at the CIMB Group. "Much of this was traditionally intermediated by Western institutions. We believe we can catalyse more intra-Asian flows because we are Asians marketing Asia."

She adds that any expansion necessitates a growth in the bank's talent pool to enhance its ability to effectively tap into market opportunities from among a broader range of needs. "With more talent coming in, we gain from an infusion of ideas and expertise that can only work to our advantage as we seek to establish our presence in new markets."

CIMB's Shanghai branch began operations in the first quarter of 2014, followed by a new branch in Hong Kong in the second quarter. The bank's first branch in Laos is expected to be set up later this year. CIMB is also in the midst of obtaining its banking licence in Vietnam, while also looking for opportunities in the Philippines.

Wholesale banking is driving CIMB's market expansion. Therefore the jobs offered fall within the scope of wholesale banking covering the front office, such as corporate banking and treasury, and support teams like finance, information technology, operations, risk and compliance, and HR.

CIMB is recruiting from within and externally. "We advertise internally to give staff with suitable qualifications who are interested in growing their career through such exposure the opportunities to strengthen their work portfolio," Naziadin explains. "External recruitment is done either through recruitment agencies or placement of job ads in suitable publications."

CIMB's strong brand, especially in investment banking, enables it to attract talent needed at various levels. But in markets where its franchise is still fairly new, such as in Greater China, where several established names are already present, it focuses more on a candidate's growth potential and ability to communicate the bank's vision. "We find that by doing so, we remain an attractive proposition for many candidates," Naziadin says.

Singapore-headquartered DBS is another Asian bank expanding overseas. It has a regional network of more than 250 branches and was one of the first foreign banks, and Singapore's first, to locally incorporate in China.

"Asian banks can service the trade, cash-management and financing needs of Western multinational corporations establishing an Asian presence close to sourcing and manufacturing," says Sharon Cheng, managing director and head of HR for Hong Kong and Mainland China at DBS Bank (Hong Kong). "Asian banks with an overseas presence are in a better position to tap these opportunities."

To fuel its expansion drive, experienced frontline talents, such as high-calibre relationship managers for its institutional banking business, top DBS's talent wish list. Internal mobility is encouraged as a way to help fill positions. "By promoting internal mobility, we can leverage the opportunity to hire from within the bank. This helps retain employees and enables them to achieve their career goals," Cheng says.

DBS runs a functional talent pipeline programme to train candidates with the necessary skills to help ensure openings are not empty for long. This helps identify potential candidates for a position and further develop them as future leaders. "Our employees are our greatest asset. We understand that staff want to be in a productive, nurturing working environment offering a range of professional opportunities to grow their careers," Cheng says.

Via a referral programme, DBS targets potential candidates, especially for highly specialised positions that may be hard to fill through the usual channels. "Candidates referred by employees tend to be of a higher quality as the referrers usually screen their referrals closely," Cheng says. "Referrers receive a monetary bonus for referrals who are hired and retained for a certain period of time."

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