Brexit triggers surge in London-based Singapore bankers seeking return home

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Singaporean banking professionals working in Britain have already started looking for jobs back home following the UK’s Brexit vote. And banks in the city state are set to take advantage of this new source of Singaporean talent.

“I’ve taken several calls from Singaporeans in the UK checking on what opportunities are available for them back in Asia,” says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore. “There’s concern in the Asian expat community.”

One expat we spoke to says the current “economic and political instability” in the UK and the threat to London banking jobs means she will soon be looking for work in Asia.

“I’m now significantly less optimistic about my prospects in the UK – I’ll have to wait and see what the Brexit negotiations yield,” adds another Singaporean finance professionals in London.

Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore, says she has spoken to several anxious Singaporean candidates in London in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.

“Most aren't now hopeful of furthering their careers in London or even elsewhere in Europe over the next two years,” she adds. “They think more jobs will go to locals and foreigners may have more difficulty getting work permits in the UK. They’re tending towards heading home or to Hong Kong, with a smaller number looking to the Middle East.”

Kuek says she expects enquiries from Singaporeans in London to further increase in the coming weeks and months. “But most won’t pack up and go without a job offer back home.”

“There’s already a rise in people wanting to return,” adds Gary Lai, managing director for Southeast Asia at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership. “But when the UK government invokes Article 50 to leave the EU, and if the pound continues to fall against the Singapore dollar, I expect many more Singaporeans to look to go back.”

An increase in returnee candidates could be a boon for banks in Singapore, which have been attempting to recruit more Singapore nationals in accordance with the Fair Consideration Framework, a law passed in 2014.

“We’ve been trying harder to hire Singaporeans in London and elsewhere for the last two years – but it hasn’t been easy,” says an HR manager at a global bank in Singapore. “All the banks want people with good London experience, and many candidates enjoy it there and won’t return without a compelling reason. Brexit could now provide the push factor for them and banks could take advantage of this.”

The HR manager says if UK-based Singaporeans do want to return, they should start looking for jobs straight away. “Opportunities in Singapore are probably better now than they will be in 18 months. If you wait, the job market could actually get worse.”

They should also be cautious about which banks they end up working for back in Singapore, he adds. “If you’re leaving London because of job instability, you don’t want instability in Singapore too. There’s no point leaving Deutsche, which is cutting in London, to join Barclays, which is cutting in Asia.”

The three Singaporean banks – DBS, OCBC and UOB – may be the main beneficiaries of any surge in returnees. “They’re still hiring in large numbers, they want overseas experience, your job will be more secure, and in many roles the compensation is now just as good as at the globals,” says the HR manager.

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