Banks and headhunters in Asia have already begun fielding calls from London finance professionals looking to relocate to the region in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote.
But their timing couldn’t be worse – aside from specialist roles, opportunities for expats in Hong Kong and Singapore are now thin on the ground.
“Since Friday I’ve received a very significant number of enquiries from London,” says Matthew Hoyle, a former options trader who now runs headhunters Matthew Hoyle Financial Markets in Hong Kong.
“People there are worried about vast job cuts and Canary Wharf becoming a ghost town. And many Londoners don’t want to move to Europe – they’d prefer Asia Pacific.”
Job applications and enquiries from the UK will only increase in the coming weeks, says a senior manager at a European bank in Singapore. “I think more British bankers will be looking for a ‘safe haven’ in Asia,” he says.
“Brexit will now make London professionals focus more on Asia than in the past because Asia gives them a perceived insulation from the uncertainty they’ll face in the UK,” adds Pathik Gupta, an associate partner at consultancy McLagan in Singapore.
Low demand generally for UK bankers
Few of these London applicants will be able to find work in Asia, however. Hong Kong-based jobs increasingly require Mandarin skills, while in Singapore a law passed in 2014 encourages employers to hire more locals. “We’re focusing on building our ‘Singapore core’ of staff rather than hiring foreigners,” says the head of HR at a US bank in the city state.
Meanwhile, banks such as Barclays and Standard Chartered have recently cut jobs in Asia – especially in cash equities – leading to a glut of local candidates on the market.
“The chances of making a move from London to Asia are now very limited,” says Christian Brun managing partner at search firm Wellesley Partners in Hong Kong. “Of the 275 odd people I have placed in the last 10 years, fewer than five have come from London or Europe.”
“The skills of London candidates are likely to be Europe focused and they won’t have the Asia knowledge and clients that are in demand here,” says ex-Jefferies trader Warwick Pearmund, now a senior consultant at search firm Bo Le Associates in Hong Kong. “They’re also likely to be expensive and I can’t see banks in Asia falling over themselves to pick up the tab.”
But London finance professionals needed in these niche area
Although most London finance professionals – front-office investment bankers among them – aren’t in demand, there are several (niche) exceptions:
Private banking support
Private banks in Asia don’t need UK relationship managers, but you may be able to find a non-client facing job. Chief among these are private banking IT roles (firms such as UBS are developing online client platforms out of Singapore) and risk management jobs, says Gupta from McLagan.
“Across commodities, there’s continued interest from sell-side, hedge funds and prop-trading houses in physical and derivatives traders with strong track records in energy and metals,” says Nick Wells, a partner at Alicorn Chase in Singapore. “London traders with good P&L in global markets are of high value in Asia.”
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Banks in Asia are especially open to overseas candidates for senior AML roles, says Orelia Chan, a senior manager at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore. “This is because at that experience level the compliance market in Singapore is relatively immature compared to other countries.”
“I’m keen to speak to UK-based candidates with transferable skills, especially quantitative and systematic traders and quantitative researchers,” says headhunter Hoyle.
Specialists in European and US regulation
“Banks require foreign talent in areas where overseas regulations directly impact the Asian market, for example the local implementation procedures around Dodd-Frank and EMIR,” says Richard Aldridge, a director at recruitment company Black Swan Group in Singapore.
There’s been a skill shortage of internal auditors in Asia since the financial crisis and it’s showing no signs of abating. Banks are most open to overseas-based job seekers at middle-management level (AVPs and VPs), say recruiters.
Digital project managers
Banks in Asia need more project managers as they create new digital platforms for their clients – and the local talent pool isn’t large enough, says Aida Karaki, a senior consultant at recruiters Astbury Marsden in Hong Kong.
KYC/client on boarding
It may not be the most glamorous job in banking, but there’s a big talent shortage in both Hong Kong and Singapore. Most banks are hiring and are willing to hire London-based candidates.
There’s no such thing as a guaranteed ticket to Asia these days, but this function comes close. Government initiatives in Hong Kong and Singapore are helping to fuel unprecedented demand for candidates.