UOB hired a new managing director for its most exciting department

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UOB has made an MD-level hire as it continues to expand its digital team in Singapore. Industry veteran Kristina Curtis, who previously worked for wealth manager BT Financial Group in Sydney, has relocated to Singapore to join UOB as regional head of engagement, group retail digital.

Curtis worked for Westpac-owned BT for three years as chief digital officer and head of digital and customer analytics. She was with ANZ in Sydney prior to that, latterly as head of customer analytics and digital for global wealth.

Her appointment is part of an ongoing UOB tech recruitment drive focused on both programmers and senior digital-banking strategists like Curtis. About a third (34%) of current vacancies on UOB’s website are for digital banking and technology jobs. UOB’s new stand-alone digital bank, TMRW, is taking on 60 additional staff in the year to October as it rolls out across Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, a 7% year-on-year rise in total costs at UOB last year was partly driven by IT-related expenses as the bank invested in “talent and technology” so it could “reap benefits from digitalisation”, according to its 2018 financial results.

Curtis is not the only recent senior digital hire at UOB. As we noted in October, UOB appointed Aaron Chia, formerly of Western Union, as the new head of its ‘digital plus’ unit for wealth and lifestyle products. People like Curtis and Chia, who have leadership and project management experience in digital banking, are in high demand in Singapore, say technology recruiters. DBS, OCBC and Citi are among the other banks bulking up in digital banking as they launch new platforms in areas such as payments and wealth management.

Banks don’t have it their own way in the digital job market, however. Fintech firms in Singapore also want to hire similar people, and they’re poaching from banks. Last year, for example, Gary Wong, OCBC’s head of strategic partnerships for lifestyle financing, left to head up GrabPay. As we reported on Monday, the threat from tech firms is particularly potent in the payments sector, where companies from Revolut to TransferWise are stepping up their hiring in Singapore. “It’s a competitive market and we’re taking our time to find the right people,” Dr Dennis Khoo, head of digital banking at UOB, told us last month. “Skill shortages are much larger than 10 years ago.”

The recruitment of Australia-based Curtis also shows that banks in Singapore are prepared to hire senior digital staff from overseas as competition in the domestic job market heats up. Despite efforts over the past five years to encourage banks to employ more local people, the government is still allowing experienced foreign digital professionals to relocate to Singapore as the country “rebalances” its education system to boost the local tech workforce over the long term. “We let them in because we require a critical mass for the sector to take off, while we continue to train Singaporeans for those jobs,” Education Minister Ong Ye Kung told Bloomberg in October.

If you want to get a senior strategy role like Curtis’ in digital banking at UOB, you must have some knowledge of coding. “If you don’t understand coding at all, that’s a problem,” digital head Khoo told us. “You need to know the basics of how our technology is written. Almost all banking projects are now software projects, especially in digital banking.”

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: smortlock@efinancialcareers.com

Image credit: RomanBabakin, Getty

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