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Huge surge in applications to DBS, OCBC, UOB as global banks slash jobs

New figures show a big recent surge in graduates applying for jobs at Singapore’s local banks, DBS, OCBC and UOB. But the rise isn’t just about roles at these banks suddenly becoming more attractive – it’s got a lot to do with the perceived instability of careers at global banks this year, say recruiters.

Applications for the 40 to 50 places on UOB’s management associate programme went up 40% (from 25k last year to 35k this year) across the Asean region, according to a Business Times report that quotes all three banks. OCBC received 5k applications for just 60 to 80 positions on its Singaporean graduate talent programme this year, an increase of 25% over 2018. DBS’s numbers are also on the up, although they are less specific and don’t provide a 2018/2019 comparison. Applications for the 120 to 140 slots across all the bank’s grad schemes were in the 7k-to-9k range both this year and last, significantly ahead of the typical 4k-to-5k totals DBS received up until 2017.

Why are graduates in Singapore getting keener on working for local banks, despite the number of actual roles on offer staying comparatively steady? For one, global firms (such as UBS, Deutsche Bank, Nomura and MUFG) have stepped up their job-cutting this year, perhaps to a degree not seen since 2008 to 2011, in the wake of the financial crisis. And even though a bank like HSBC is expanding in Singapore, its high-profile global layoffs have helped fuel a perception that foreign banks are in cut-back mode. On a global level, there are signs that the problems affecting some of the big banks have affected their application numbers. Deutsche received 80k applications for its graduate programme globally this year, 30k fewer than in 2018, according to Financial News.

“Global banks have faced lots of headwinds and have turned their focus back home, so they’re not hiring very much in Singapore,” says Lucas Yeo, a director at search firm Tangspac. “There’s also been significant restructuring and offshoring at global banks in Singapore, so any perception that the global banks are stable has eroded significantly,” he adds.

Despite their regional expansions this decade, Singapore is still the main market for DBS, OCBC and UOB, so young job seekers perceived that these banks are less inclined to cull jobs and are more inclined to offer stable careers, says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group.

Moreover, while all banks are abiding by the Fair Consideration Framework (a 2014 regulation that encourages employers to hire and promote Singaporeans), DBS, OCBC and UOB appear to be among its most enthusiastic supporters. As a result, Singaporean graduates believe local banks will open up more management opportunities for them as their careers progress, says a headhunter who asked not to be named. Foreign banks are still more likely to parachute in expats to fill senior jobs, he adds.

But it’s not just about long-term job security – there are other, more positive, reasons why graduates are increasingly applying to Singapore’s local banks. Local firms give ambitious young bankers “better visibility with top management” because group heads are based in Singapore, not the US or Europe.

Singapore banks have also ramped up their so-called internal mobility programmes recently, creating more opportunities for top-performing juniors to take on roles with “regional scope” and to work in China, Indonesia and other Asian countries, says Chez Williams, an associate director at LMA recruitment.

Recruiters also suggest that tech-savvy students and graduates have been won over by Singaporean banks’ recent product launches in digital banking, many of which have garnered significant media attention. Local firms may not have the balance sheets of their global rivals, but they often appear to be competing on a level playing field with larger players when it comes to technology (and technology jobs). DBS was named the ‘world’s best bank’ by Euromoney this year in part because of its tech prowess and its ‘data-driven’ staff training. “The local banks have been pushing digitalisation, which has changed their image, so they’re more appealing to younger candidates,” says Yeo.

Still, domestic banks don’t have it all their own way when it comes to attracting top grads. Their salaries are generally competitive in sectors such as in corporate banking and private banking, and in middle and back-office functions. For front-office global markets and investment banking jobs, however, global bankers are typically better paymasters at a junior level. They also don’t provide 20-somethings much “cross-border exposure” outside of Asia, says Yeo.

Image credit: Duy Nguyen, Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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