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Avoiding the axe-wielders

Published on Friday, 26 Oct 2012
Illustration: Bay Leung

The banking industry currently resembles something of a minefield. Few areas are deemed safe to tread, despite the fact that Asia is the sector’s fastest-growing region. A number of local branches have laid off large quantities of staff across various divisions this year, with both executives and junior staff of underperforming areas sharing similarly grim fates.

While the immediate outlook for banking recruitment might appear gloomy, there is, however, growing demand for good staff in a number of areas. Many of these areas relate to how the market has been forced to change as a result of the latest global recession.

“Due to the changing regulatory environment, there is increased demand for specialists in areas of risk management, compliance and international law,” says Margaret Cheng, head of HR Hong Kong and global businesses Asia-Pacific at HSBC. “We are also always looking for bankers with good relationship-management skills and product knowledge.”

She adds that skilled IT workers are always in demand in the industry. “Technology underpins the day-to-day operations of an international bank. Therefore there is always demand for experienced IT professionals who are passionate about the financial services industry.”

Deutsche Bank has also seen the demand for staff in several of its divisions rise. “We are seeing substantial growth in transaction banking, private wealth management, risk and compliance,” the bank said in response to written questions from the Classified Post.

“Demand is especially strong in advisory and credit-risk roles that support private banking, as this is where most of the growth has been. Anti-money laundering has also been an area where we’ve seen increasing demand.”

The bank cites several reasons for these increases. “In private wealth banking, we have increased our presence over the past 18 months in line with the broader industry. The talent market in this growing area is very competitive. We have also seen increasing demand for mid-level managers in compliance and risk, as banks have expanded the number of individuals in these groups due to greater regulatory demands,” it said.

The skill sets required for these in-demand areas are dependent on specific roles, and a diverse range of backgrounds and personalities are needed. Deutsche Bank said, however, that there were certain common factors that could set people apart.

“A definite interest and passion for the business is the key to succeeding. Also, while there is no one-size-fits-all approach, across our staff, we also look for individuals who are client-focused, dedicated and agile. An educational background related to finance, economics, business or accounting would also be beneficial,” the bank said.

Cheng says that HSBC looks for team players with sound interpersonal and communication skills. Candidates should also share HSBC’s values of openness, dependability, connectedness and high standards of integrity. Relevant tertiary education is a necessary requirement, though the bank does not specifically look for an honours degree unless it is hiring for its management associate programme.

Experienced and junior bankers who fear that they are stuck in divisions which are prone to job cuts can switch into more in-demand areas, but need to be proactive and knowledgeable of where else their skills can be used.

“It is all about skill-set matching,” said Deutsche Bank. “The key is for the banker to proactively manage their career and have an open enough outlook to realise that their skill set is transferable. For example, an equity or fixed-income salesperson could move into global transaction banking, or a trader or structurer could become a product specialist in private banking.

“Self-learning is the key. An individual needs to identify skills gaps and make an effort to understand what is required in other divisions and roles.”

Cheng says that HSBC makes an effort to maximise employees’ exposure to different parts of the business. “We encourage cross-business and cross-geography transfers,” she says. “We offer short-term assignments and long-term postings to staff who are interested in such opportunities. We believe a combination of externally recruited bankers and internally groomed employees adds the most value to the organisation.”

Cheng says long-term hiring prospects in newly in-demand areas depend largely on the actions of emerging markets. “As we see global capital and trade flow move from West to East and new trade routes opening up, the focus for the global economy will be on emerging markets such as Asia, the Middle East and Latin America,” she says.

“However, banking and finance is a dynamic industry driven by macroeconomics and global forces. As such, HSBC’s resourcing strategy will align to changing market trends and business needs.”

Deutsche Bank believes that certain suffering fields will bounce back in the long term, but some global shifts will be more permanent. “The industry continues to evolve,” it said.

“Certain areas of demand will return, but recent changes to the industry over the past several years will continue to shape the future of the banking sector.”

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