Guest comment: Next stop Singapore
Astbury Marsden's Nick Frank and Adrian Kinnersley on why the momentum for back office and accounting hiring is shifting to Singapore.
Accountancy and back office professionals are in unprecedented demand in the City. However, the future is likely to be very different.
With the price of a newly qualified accountant pushing 55k, banks are already beginning to explore their options. Offshoring is commonplace for technology and clearing and settlement roles. In the near future we predict an increasing number of accounting positions will be located offshore too.
In some instances, that future is already upon us. Numerous banks have begun hubbing accounting roles outside the UK. The destinations of choice are Manila and Bangalore, and - significantly - Singapore.
Hundreds of empty desks
On a visit to Singapore earlier this month we witnessed floors with 200 empty desks waiting to be filled. The likes of Credit Suisse are turning the island state into a 24-hour operations hub, with staff working on three shift patterns a day, covering Europe, Asia and the US.
Singapore's ascent as an operational centre is already impacting back office jobs elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region - both Tokyo and Hong Kong have seen roles moved there. London will be next. It's not a question of job cuts as much as job transferral - if you want to work in Singapore for a similar pay package (after taxation and the cost of living are taken into account), your job will be waiting for you. If you want to stay in London, however, it may not be.
Who will sit at those 200 empty desks? Some will undoubtedly be filled by staff working on exceptions - those trades that can't be cleared electronically - and other operational roles. But others will be filled by qualified accountants working on the production of daily profit and loss figures, work which would previously have been done in the UK.
This movement of roles has seen an increase in demand for senior hires at VP, Director and even MD level in the region. This is becoming an increasingly smart career move as regional hub roles in Asia are evolving into roles with a global scope. Career-minded individuals prepared to choose Asia are experiencing much quicker promotion compared to their European or US counterparts, with job specs that are vastly broader in scope.
Spot the losers
Who's likely to lose out? The roles most likely to be moved offshore from Europe are those which are already remote from the desks they serve. If you're an accountant working in London in product control for a desk in Frankfurt, beware. By comparison, if you work closely with London-based traders on the valuation of new products, your position in the City will be a lot more secure.
Singapore's new-found pre-eminence may not last. At the moment, the high price of accountancy talent in London and the cost of real estate makes the move very viable - you can hire a junior accountant in Singapore for S$45k (15k). Longer term, however, prices are likely to rise. With a population of just 4.5m, Singapore's labour pool is far from infinite - we're already seeing experienced accountants moving roles for an 80% premium. The first stop may be Singapore, the next along the line is likely to be Mumbai.