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2021: What lies in store for banking jobs in Hong Kong and Singapore?

After a year of economic pain and falling levels of recruitment, there is cause for quiet optimism about the 2021 job market in Asian banking. Several senior bankers have already said that Asia will lead the global recovery from Covid-19 this year. Alexander von zur Mühlen, CEO for Asia Pacific at Deutsche Bank, said last month that the region is predicted to grow “significantly faster than the rest of the world” and that “banking fee pools are also expected to rise accordingly”.

What key hiring trends should we expect to emerge in Hong Kong and Singapore this year? Here’s a selection…

Hiring may bounce back quicker in Singapore than Hong Kong

In December, the Financial Times reported that banks are looking to hire more employees in Singapore rather than Hong Kong, in an under-the-radar shift aimed at reducing staffing levels in Hong Kong while avoiding angering the Chinese government. Moreover, recruiters expect to receive more enquiries from small financial services firms about creating new jobs in Singapore – roles that might have otherwise been added in Hong Kong. “Global banks are likely to grow their Singapore operations as they spread their risk further between North and South East Asia,” says Gary Lai, managing director, South East Asia, at Charterhouse Partnership. “The Singapore economy is also expected to grow strongly in 2021, albeit from a low base, which will fuel the banking industry and recruitment,” he adds.

But we may have to wait until Q2 for the rebound

Angela Kuek, director of Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore, expects a recovery in the job market will take place only in the second quarter, in the wake of redundancies and attrition in late 2020 and early 2021. The focus will be on junior to mid-level candidates who are Singaporean citizens or permanent residents, she adds.

Digital banks will cause churn in the job market

Singapore’s four new digital banks will do most of their hiring this year, ahead of launching in 2022, and will focus on areas such as product, data, technology, risk, finance and compliance. This will trigger churn in the job market as brick-and-mortar banks are forced to hire replacements for people who move to the new online players. Hong Kong’s eight virtual banks only launched last year, so their hiring will continue, albeit not at the same scale as their Singaporean counterparts.

More candidates will become open to working for Chinese banks

Chinese banks were well positioned in most Asia Pacific revenue rankings last year. Their Hong Kong recruitment rates also remained strong compared with US and European rivals in the city. Expect more of the same in 2021. “Chinese financial institutions continue to expand in Hong Kong and candidates who weren’t open to Chinese firms are becoming more receptive as they become more alike to foreign banks’ operations,” says Keith Wong, country director, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, at Links International.

An emerging tech boom

The tech jobs that boomed in 2020 – from cyber security to cloud engineering – will be sought after this year too. But there will also be a new hiring drive within the end-user services domain, says Brett Lockett, a principal consultant at Robert Walters in Singapore. “With Covid-19, we’ve already seen some initial investment from some of the large global banks as they aim to improve their desktop, mobile and collaboratives services technology,” he says. “Historically such technology has been outsourced to vendor organisations who manage the end-to-end suite for banking clients. However, as the push towards improving end-user and customer experience increases, more banks will in-source this capability in 2021.”

Flexible working will be come part of the landscape in Asian banking

Covid-19 forced banks in Singapore and Hong Kong to overcome their traditional dislike of flexible working. But even when the pandemic starts to ease, many of their flexible policies could remain in place. “Candidates are interested to find jobs that allow flexible arrangements for working from home. This should no longer be a request but a new norm. Banks who are offering more flexibility are attracting more candidates, given that this proves they have better technology, an employee-focused culture and a trust-based working environment,” says Emily Tan, executive director of the financial services practice at Kerry Consulting.

‘Hybrid’ bankers will be in demand

It’s never been more important to understand trends in digital banking, even if you’re not a technologist. “With the new digital banks in Singapore, traditional banks are fighting both talent and market share losses. ‘Hybrid’ banker candidates, who understand retail business/products and  digital/data trends, will therefore be in demand in 2021,” says Tan from Kerry.

More bankers will quit for tech

“With digital disintermediation on the cards, expect the trend to continue of more bankers making a career pivot away from traditional banking into the digital economy,” says Pan Zaixian, founder of headhunters Pan & Co in Singapore. “This may take the form of an outright change of employment away from banking to tech, or they could position themselves to be more involved in digital related projects, or put their hands up to cover technology clients,” he adds.

Language skills will be more critical in Singapore

Mandarin is becoming a more important skill in Singapore as Chinese tech companies set up in the city and more family offices expand to service wealthy mainland clients. “With China the resident superpower, and Indonesia as a burgeoning market, we can expect more people to sign up to business Mandarin and Bahasa courses,” says Pan.

Restructuring will come to the fore

“Firms are preparing for economic uncertainties by seeking out candidates with restructuring experience,” says Jack Leung, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong. “In the investment banking and asset management space, this will take the guise of increased demand for credit solutions and product restructuring candidates,” he adds.

Family offices will hire more private bankers

As we reported last month, the growth of family offices in Singapore is set to open up new jobs, from portfolio managers to compliance professionals, in 2021. The trends are similar in Hong Kong, says Leung. “Candidates in demand are quality bankers moving into external asset manager/independent asset manager positions, as well as into family offices,” he says, adding that these firms are targeting senior bankers with wealthy clients in tier-two and tier-three mainland cities.

The compliance bubble won’t burst

Compliance teams in Singapore and Hong Kong continue to be busy, with the latter city having to deal with additional regulations imposed by the national security law. While compliance teams aren’t growing as rapidly as they were three or four years ago, there will be plenty of replacement hiring in 2021. “Compliance related jobs will continue to be in demand in the coming year. AML continues to be one of the leading areas within compliance where the supply of candidates continues to be insufficient,” says Wong from Links International.

Photo by Danil Aksenov on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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