Finance professionals at local banks in Singapore now have more options to work overseas following a spate of deals in recent years by DBS, OCBC and UOB. But some remain reluctant to take foreign transfers, preferring the short-term hit of a pay rise in a buoyant local labour market.
Just this year, DBS and UOB announced deals to acquire parts of Citigroup’s businesses in Asia Pacific after the US firm exited 13 markets in the region. DBS acquired a stake in Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank in 2021, and in 2020 its Indian operations merged with Lakshmi Vilas Bank.
The Citi deals, in particular, mean that some Singapore-based managers at DBS and UOB have opportunities to take up management positions within their new subsidiaries. DBS, for example, has acquired Citi’s consumer banking franchises in Taiwan. While the majority of new vacancies at DBS’s expanded Taiwanese unit will go to locals, it’s likely that DBS will want to parachute in some Singaporean staff at a senior level.
However, convincing Singaporeans to take up roles in Southeast Asia, Greater China or India may not be so straightforward, even when borders open up further. A booming job market at home, driven partly by a decline in the supply of foreign talent into the city state, has driven up salaries and made Singaporeans in high demand in the local banking sector. Many finance professionals want to stay at home and take advantage of this market rather than gain a few years of overseas work experience.
This could be a shortsighted attitude, say recruiters. Down the road, it could mean the Singaporean talent pool is lacking in “new ideas and new ways of looking at the world”, says John Mullally, regional director, Southern China and Hong Kong Financial Services, at Robert Walters.
Moreover, Singapore will remain a global financial hub for the foreseeable future, which means overseas work experience will hold its value.
“Returning Singaporeans are still very popular for banking and financial services institutions, especially those with experience from the UK, USA, Australia, Hong Kong or China,” says Lester Qin, director of the banking and financial services team at Ambition in Singapore. “Regional or global exposure is highly valuable given many roles here in Singapore are regional or global coverage positions.”
DBS, OCBC and UOB all base the majority of their regional roles in Singapore, and they therefore like to hire people who have lived and worked in other Southeast Asian markets. Overseas experience is also likely to stand you in good stead if you return to Singapore and apply to Standard Chartered, a firm that has many global and regional roles in the Republic.
Some recruiters are optimistic that Singaporean finance professionals will embrace overseas opportunities, particularly when Covid restrictions are lifted in Hong Kong and China.
“I haven’t sensed any particular reluctance from Singaporeans as compared to other countries in terms of being prepared to go and work overseas,” says Sam Belcher, managing partner, Asia, The Edge.
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