UOB now wants to hire from Google and Apple. Here’s why

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UOB wants to bolster its technology team in Singapore and it’s targeting firms like Google and Facebook to secure some of its new talent.

The bank is currently hiring more technologists (including engineers, analysts, digital designers, architects, project managers and data scientists), Susan Hwee, head of group technology and operations, told us, without providing recruitment numbers. About 4,500 of UOB’s 25,000 employees work in Hwee’s department.

Hwee is recruiting techies from both finance and non-finance backgrounds. “If you’re designing a new trading system, for example, you need technologists who already understand how markets work.”

When hiring in digital banking, though, UOB is open to candidates from “global technology platforms” such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Uber, says Hwee. “These people are focused on engaging customers and customer-centric design, just like we are.”

“They also design technology from the outside in,” adds Hwee. “Traditional banks are risk adverse and have designed IT systems from the inside out. Now we need a balance between customer needs and the bank’s risk management needs.”

But why would a Googler want to join a bank? Hwee says she enjoys the “challenge” of working in banking technology, “given how heavily the sector is regulated and the complexity of the industry”.

“Even at school I was fascinated by banking products and interested in applied technology in banking,” says Hwee, who has worked in technology for more than 30 years, including stints at Citi and IBM. “Banking is a risk business and is essentially all about technology, so you can reimagine the whole sector in your head – it’s cerebral.”

While several global banks have recently offshored IT roles to low-cost Asian markets like India and the Philippines, UOB still bases most of its technologists at its Singapore headquarters.

“UOB has a global workforce in technology in Singapore. Many of our people are Singaporean, Malaysian, Filipino, Indian and Chinese, but we also have staff from countries such as France, Lebanon, Romania and Australia,” says Hwee.

The bank also wants to hear from London-based technologists who might now be interested in relocating to Singapore ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

“We recognise the push to have a ‘Singapore core’ of employees in the workplace,” says Hwee. “We also want to hire the right people for the right jobs. Talent is global, so we need to compete globally for the best people.”

Wherever you are applying from, Hwee says she likes candidates who have “worked on the execution and implementation of complex projects, where there was a big problem to address”.

“At interviews, I like you to talk about your failures and how you’ve learned from them. This gives me a view of the depth of your thinking and the strength of your leadership.”

Three “mega themes” – digital architecture, data, and security – now underpin UOB’s technology objectives after the firm finished standardising its core banking platforms in 2013.

“In banking, security means more than just cyber security. For example, having more RMs out in the field with tablets when they meet clients opens up potential security risks for banks,” says Hwee.

Meanwhile, UOB technologists are using agile methodology to launch and update digital products more quickly, and the bank is focused on giving staff and clients better access to data.

Understanding data is also key to long-term job security in banking, says Hwee. “Robotics will affect jobs in banking – that's the reality,” she says. “Having the versatility and ability to analyse data can help avoid your job being automated. Making decisions and judgements based on data – to derive value for yourself and the bank – is becoming the skill set for the future.”

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