Singapore banks see 70% spike in job applications as bonuses beat global rivals

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Global banks in Singapore are now struggling to compete with local banks in the very sector they all need to recruit in: risk and compliance.

“It’s got to the stage that even if one of the Singaporean firms offered 10% less base salary than us, we might still not be able to get the candidate,” says a source at a European bank in the city state. “That’s a big change for us.”

“This year DBS especially is receiving dozens of applications for their middle-office vacancies and they get their choice of people – it’s very tough to land a job there now,” he adds. “We have to get global approval for all our hires, so sometimes we can’t act fast enough to complete with them.”

The increase in applications is partly driven by the more generous bonuses potentially on offer. This year DBS, OCBC and UOB paid their top-performing governance staff bonuses of up to four months’ salary – higher than the typical one-month payment on offer at foreign firms, says a recruiter in Singapore who asked not to be named.

“These days – yes, they can pay larger middle-office bonuses,” adds Kyle Blockley, managing partner of recruitment firm KS Consulting. “But historically bonuses at foreign banks were far higher.”

Blockley says candidate enquiries about middle-office jobs at local banks have surged 60% to 70% in Singapore over the past year – but it’s not all because of bonuses. Job losses at firms such as Barclays and Standard Chartered have fuelled the perception that Singapore banks are more stable employers.

“The local Singapore population have definitely started to stay away from the Western Banks due to the uncertainty of how long your career will last with them,” says Blockley.

“There’s a flight to safety during uncertain times in the job market,” says Christina Ng, an executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. “There’s also a view that Singapore banks are more stable because their headquarters are here, so they’re unlikely to pull out in a significant way – unlike some of the foreign banks that have closed or scaled down their operations.”

Being based locally also means the Singapore banks can give their senior risk and compliance staff more descion-making power. “OCBC is headquartered here in Singapore, so I can now have greater flexibility in driving the risk function of the entire bank,” Vincent Choo, head of risk at OCBC, told us earlier, explaining why he moved from Deutsche Bank.

“The absence of a long hours is also attractive,” says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore. “The three banks are mostly Asia businesses, so there aren’t late-night calls with the US or too much long-haul travel.”

“The cultural fit in Singapore banks can also be a large draw for Singaporean candidates as the company culture is different at large international banks,” adds Aaron Bolton, a manager at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore.

Away from the middle-office, Singapore banks aren’t such attractive propositions. As we noted earlier this week, bankers often say they are too hierarchical and don’t pay well enough.

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