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Singapore banks still hiring despite slowing economy

DBS and Citi have combined 1,200 vacancies; but most banks seeking mainly compliance and IT staff

While global banks are slashing Asia positions - especially in investment banking - banks operating in Singapore have thousands of vacancies, mainly in compliance and information technology.


WHILE global banks are slashing Asia positions - especially in investment banking - banks operating in Singapore have thousands of vacancies, mainly in compliance and information technology.

Several banks told The Business Times that while recruitment may not be as hot as last year, they are still looking for hundreds of new employees.

DBS, South-east Asia's largest bank, and Citi, the largest foreign bank employer in Singapore, have about 600 vacancies each.

But this has not been reflected in the news lately. Instead, lay-offs have been hogging the headlines as the economic gloom deepens.

Singapore's third-quarter growth went into a sharp 4.1 per cent decline on a seasonally adjusted quarter-on-quarter annualised basis, government data showed on Friday.

This was a reversal from the annualised 0.2 per cent growth seen in the preceding quarter, and contrasts with private-sector economists' expectations for flat quarter-on-quarter growth.

In fact, the 4.1 per cent contraction was much worse than even the most pessimistic of forecasts. According to a Bloomberg poll of 14 economists, only half had expected a sub-zero figure, with Citi's Kit Wei Zheng forecasting the deepest slide - but only of 2.5 per cent.

The resident unemployment rate has not risen sharply but it did reach 3 per cent in June, exceeding the range of 2.6 to 2.9 per cent for the first time in five years.

Reports of job cuts in the banking sector were mainly in investment banking due to the dearth of deals and competition from Chinese banks.

Bank of America plans to cut about a dozen senior positions at its corporate and investment banking operations in Asia, the second time the US firm is culling jobs in the region this year, according to a Bloomberg report. Goldman Sachs is looking to reduce its 300-strong investment banking workforce in Asia by up to 30 per cent, according to Reuters.

In Singapore, bank hiring is mainly for compliance and IT positions.

"The compliance and anti-money laundering space in financial services is still buoyant due to increased regulatory requirements, so candidates in this area are still getting fair pay raises to move," said James Rushworth, Profile Search & Selection, managing director.

Said Jorge Osorio, Citi Singapore country head of human resources: "As one of the largest banking sector employers in Singapore we are always looking to add talent in various roles across the Citi franchise." Citi employs 9,200 people here.

The bank uses a number of sourcing channels, including Internet recruitment portals, with the majority of job openings listed on the Citi Careers portal (, he said.

"In total we have posted more than 600 job openings to date. Some of the openings include opportunities in consumer sales and marketing, technology and cybersecurity as well as regulatory roles such as risk, internal audit and compliance," said Mr Osorio.

A DBS spokeswoman said that as at end-August, it had more than 200 vacancies for the Singapore franchise, and over 400 for all its other markets combined. The group has almost 22,000 staff with over 10,000 in Singapore.

"This is slightly lower compared to the same period a year ago, and reflects a pacing of hiring in line with business needs," she said.

The spokeswoman added that some of the areas DBS continues to hire for include consumer banking and key support functions such as technology and operations as well as risk management, she said.

It is also looking for talent who are well-versed in technology and digital.

"In particular, we are looking for data scientists, UX/UI (user experience and interface) designers as well as people familiar with cloud computing and Hadoop," she said. Hadoop is an open-source Big Data platform.

Swiss bank UBS, the largest wealth management firm in the world with some 2,200 staff in Singapore, said hiring is on par with previous years.

UBS has 132 postings on the efinancialcareers jobsite.

"Asia continues to be a region of growth for our business and we continue to hire strategically depending on the needs of the business," said Maria Chan, UBS Asia Pacific head of human resources.

Additionally, a focus on internal mobility moves and strengthening of direct sourcing capabilities has resulted in efficiencies in the bank's talent acquisition processes, she said.

"The fourth quarter is typically about preparing for the year-end and our 132 posted vacancies is on par with prior years at this time of the hiring cycle," said Ms Chan.

"We continue to be a net hirer and our headcount in Asia has increased since 2015."

OCBC Bank also has over 100 job postings on efinancialcareers.

Jacinta Low, OCBC head of HR planning, said hiring has always been done selectively.

"Whenever we have positions available, we endeavour to fill these positions internally by first searching our existing talent pool before recruiting from external sources. On average, more than 20 per cent of our vacancies are filled internally every year."

United Overseas Bank said it is hiring across the group but declined to mention numbers.

Jenny Wong, UOB group managing director and head of human resources, said the bank regularly reviews how it deploys resources for optimal impact, striking the right balance for productivity and for its staff.

"Even as we are mindful of the muted global economic environment, we continue to invest in the best talent in various areas such as wealth management, data sciences, IT security, risk management and compliance," she said.