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Why nobody wants to work as a banking accountant in Singapore

If you know anything about accounting jobs at banks, you'll know that most of them go to so-called product controllers – the people who keep track of the profit and loss made on banks' trading desks. In Singapore, these accountants in banks are increasingly concerned about their jobs.

Product controllers in Singapore are worried that still more roles will be displaced by technology, or offshored away from the Republic in the near future. As a result, experienced candidates are in short supply. Apply now and you won’t face much competition, but your job may not last for very long.

Product control was one of Singapore’s hottest banking functions from about 2005 to 2011 as firms such as Barclays, Credit Suisse and Standard Chartered moved jobs away from Europe and into Singapore. Earlier this decade, as local operating costs rose, the same banks offshored hundreds of lower-level PC positions from Singapore into emerging markets like Malaysia, the Philippines and India.

This year, recruiters say there's been a minor hiring surge in Singapore as banks try to find candidates for the kind of managerial or front-office-facing PC roles that they are reluctant to offshore in the short term. “Banks need experienced product controllers with exposure to the front-office to perform roles deemed critical by the MAS,” says a Singapore-based recruiter.

In the wake of recent offshoring, however, many candidates believe that even these more skilled PC jobs come with a “time limit on how long they can stay in Singapore”, says Kyle Blockley, managing partner of recruitment firm KS International. “Why would anyone join a bank knowing that their role may only exist for six or 12 months? Banks are testing processes for new products in Singapore but then offshoring the role to a lower-cost location.”

An April 2019 report from the Monetary Authority of Singapore suggests that these fears are well-founded – and not just because of offshoring. It identifies product control as one of the finance jobs at “high risk” of being displaced by technology over the next few years. The rise of real-time “cloud-based solutions provided by external service providers” means banks are moving away from manual (i.e. human) PC processes, according to the report. 

“It was always difficult to find good all-rounded product controllers – those with both technical skills and an understanding of the market. But now it’s not just finding these skills that’s challenging; it’s finding people willing to still work in function," says Blockley. "The intelligent product controllers make sure they get diversified experience within their bank so they can get transferred to different departments.”

A senior product controller at a global bank, speaking on condition of anonymity, says PC in Singapore is “no longer a stable career for anyone” and that he and many of his counterparts are looking for jobs in functions such as risk and compliance.

Singaporean product controllers of the (near) future could potentially stay employed in their current field by being “proficient” in leading outsourced teams, and having “strong business and financial acumen” to uncover hidden insights in data that computers may miss, says the MAS report. If all else fails, the report recommends trying to move into a risk management job.

Product controllers are prime candidates for middle-office roles because these jobs call for for similar oversight and governance-focused skills, say recruiters.

Image credit: graffoto8, Getty

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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