q3 2018 market outlook: banking in singapore.

We saw continuous talent demand within the banking and financial services industry in Q3 this year.

In addition to the natural attrition that banks typically faced after bonus payout in Q2, we observed several high-profile appointments as well as newly-created roles at the middle to senior level between July and September.

More organisations had chosen to offer internal mobility and promotion opportunities to retain their top talent in the second half of the year, as it is challenging to employ new headcount during this period.

Despite this effort, we saw professionals leave their roles for rival companies that can offer better career opportunities. Job seekers were attracted to companies that provide not just better career prospects, but also a strong leadership team as well as robust career development programmes.

It is clear that employers need to put in more effort to retain their people, in particular, their middle to senior level talent. Beyond monetary compensation, hiring managers should have open conversations with their employees to gain a deeper understanding of their career motivations and personal aspirations. This can help them better leverage their employees’ strengths and identify areas where they can help their people develop and grow.


wealth and bancassurance: retaining talents within front office

In its best effort to retain their top-performing wealth managers, retail banks offered them competitive salary packages, attractive bonuses and fast-tracked promotions. Contrary to the standard career progression within the same platform, we observed that banks are starting to promote their top sales staff to a higher-level platform or offer them with opportunities in leadership positions as a retention strategy.

As with previous years, hiring experienced wealth managers in the second half of the year has proven to be challenging due to year-end performance reviews and upcoming bonuses. To keep up with the growing market and talent demands, banks started looking outside of their segment to hire candidates, as opposed to engaging in a price war to compete for experienced candidates from rival firms.

We saw several senior appointments within the front office space in private banking, particularly at the market head and senior private banker level. Compared to the traditional approach of organic growth or acquisitions, several joint ventures between private banks were also announced this year. This enables private banks to achieve faster growth in market share and access to wealth management expertise and platforms. In this competitive landscape, good candidates with three to six years’ experience could easily command a pay increment of 30 per cent and above when they move to rival firms. A number of banks have even brought forward their year-end appraisals with their top talent to discuss potential growth areas and internal opportunities to help them achieve their career aspirations.

With the ongoing changes in the wealth management sector, it is increasingly important for employers to keep communication channels open, and focus on talent engagement so that they can continue to attract and retain the best people.


corporate and SME banking: experienced professionals want better stability and good transaction and product support

Talent demand remained high across all levels within the corporate and SME banking segment. Companies that were looking to expand offered their potential hires with more attractive terms, such as a higher job position or a role with wider responsibilities, which made it difficult for candidates to resist.

Middle and senior professionals were looking for companies that can offer better job stability as well as good transaction and product support to close more deals. In a bid to retain their workforce, companies have started to offer internal mobility opportunities and better work-life balance options. Hiring managers should also continue to engage their people by leveraging on their strengths and encouraging them to discover their full potential - to add value to the business or enter new markets.


asset management and private equity: candidates continue to seek learning opportunities

With the growing number of family offices and private equity firms, the asset management sector are facing critical talent shortage at the mid to senior level professional. Talent retention had proven to be even more challenging in Q3, as candidates actively sought employers that can provide them with a wider job scope and robust development programmes.

Middle-level professionals continued to be in demand with opportunities across both front and back office. Candidates who have experience in niche and emerging sectors such as life sciences and information technology, or in hyper-growth markets such as Greater China were highly sought-after in the front office space. This talent demand is aligned with the growth we see in these segments and the opportunities that present themselves in the China market.

Candidates had expressed willingness to take on roles with expanded job scopes or cross-functional opportunities to expand their knowledge and learn new skills. Hiring managers can consider these aspirations as a key attraction and retention driver.


compliance & risk: hire candidates who demonstrate potential

Hiring activities were reported at an all-time high in the compliance space, especially at the middle level. We also saw several senior level movements within boutique and medium-sized banks, reminiscent of the corporate musical chair trend in 2015 and 2016. Global banks that were still going through a series of hiring freeze and business restructuring saw several senior departures within a short period of time.

Talent retention remained a challenge for companies due to the small talent pool. Rival firms were seen to offer more than 20 per cent salary increment and bigger titles to attract compliance candidates to join them.

Due to the stringent regulatory environment and more banks adding headcounts in first line of defence, talent demand within the risk control functions remained high in Q3. Senior candidates with regional responsibilities were highly in demand as companies continued to seek candidates who have relevant technical knowledge in operations and risk management, as well as the ability to lead the implementation of operational risk initiatives.


operations: expand job and market responsibilities to retain top talent

We saw a decline in new hires for middle and back office talents in Q3 as banks continued to streamline and manage headcount costs. Companies that have reduced the number of senior positions in operations had chose to bolster their technology capabilities to address the growing market demands. To retain experienced high-performers, we observed a number of banks offered them an opportunity to promote or move internally across business lines, even to risk functions.

Through our client interactions, we found that the hiring challenge that most companies faced is in the identification of eligible candidates with the relevant knowledge and interest to stay within operations. Experienced professionals were looking for opportunities to be more involved in projects, have a larger job scope or additional market responsibilities. As opposed to a lateral move, companies that want to keep good talent should consider expanding the breadth of scope of these professionals.


back office: prominent talent movements in finance

MAS 610 has been the talk of the town since the start of the year, with companies reconciling their workforce in the regulatory reporting space for both projects and BAU to manage the onset of changes from the new regulation.

Senior hires and movements were prominent in Q3, as we saw several departures and appointments at the leadership level across the Asian banks. These professionals had either accepted a more strategic role or took on a portfolio with greater responsibilities.

Remuneration has never been a single key consideration for senior finance professionals, and they are also less likely to respond to counter offers. These candidates are attracted to better career progression opportunities, a positive workplace culture and support from senior stakeholders. Our advice to hiring managers is to understand their employees’ concerns and aspirations, and offer them greater exposure to other areas of finance to ensure higher job satisfaction.


contracting: transparent communications can increase project completion

We continued to see a strong demand for professional contractors in Q3 within front to back office operation functions across corporate, private and investment banks. As we approach the end of the year, we saw increasing headcounts and multiple project hires in several banks, specifically in KYC remediation to cope with deadlines. There was a particular demand for middle to senior level contractors (salary ranging between S$5k and S$12k) as most companies are operating on lean models and need contractors who can hit the ground running.

Companies looking to attract high-calibre and committed talent to take on contracting roles should align their expectations with the candidates’. Have a honest discussion about the reasons why the role is on a contract basis, the value that the contractors will add to the organisation and if there is an opportunity for extension or conversion after the contract expires. Such transparency can help increase the rate of contractors staying to complete their contracts.


free report: banking outlook & salary snapshot

If you would like a copy of this outlook along with the latest Singapore banking salary snapshot, reach out to me. I would love to share the PDF report with you and learn more about your talent needs.

about the author

Lim Chai Leng - Director

A seasoned specialist with more than 15 years’ experience in the banking and financial services sector, Chai Leng currently leads one of the largest Banking & Financial Services recruitment team in Singapore. She understands what it takes for organisations to drive productivity and efficiencies, and works with senior HR and business leaders on their talent and hiring needs.

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