“Singapore and Hong Kong are the treasury and finance centres for the Asia-Pacific region,” said Singapore-based Pan Zaixian, due to their “international financial markets, quality of infrastructure, reliable legal framework and highly educated English speaking populations.” Moreover, he said, whereas Asia used to be viewed as a back office for accounting, manufacturing, IT or other support work for MNCs in the western markets, MNCs now view Asia as a key revenue market. With institutions continuing to focus on Asian business, Zaixian said, there should be “continued demand for professionals.”
In Hong Kong, TY Lee sees that there has been a pick-up in hiring for payment and cash management professionals. Managing treasury has become even more important so, according to Lee, “banks are seeking talents with strong payment and cash management experience.” Christina Ng noted that regulatory change means there is even more focus on finance functions in banks, so “demand for talents who are experienced in finance and financial systems remains strong.”
In Singapore, banks’ focus on Asian business means there also should be continued demand for such professionals. However, Zaixian said that the evolving uncertainties about European markets mean that professionals focusing on European businesses “may undergo further restructuring.”
Demand for IT Professionals
IT professionals are in high demand, too, given the large number of new projects. “Hong Kong is currently experiencing major transformation projects amongst investment and commercial banks in cash management and finance platforms,” said Sommer Owens, so “there is solid demand for IT professionals with project management, business analysis, application development, business process reengineering or support skills.” In Singapore, said Pan, there is a need for IT professionals because “many MNCs have situated their global cash and payments centres in Singapore” and also created “straight-through processing systems and just-in-time financial management systems that integrate general ledgers across different businesses cross-geographically”.
While “the aim of IT investment is to increase efficiency and reduce costs, which often includes reducing a firm’s reliance on functional staff for routine tasks,” Owens said, “IT investment can also result in a firm expanding its operations and hiring additional staff.” Similarly, Zaixian added that even though “a key agenda for IT projects is to drive accuracy and efficiency, which will usually result in a reduction in future headcount, large IT projects are usually followed by a call to restructure skill-set requirements and a need for senior and technical professionals.”
Owens also says that “firms have been reluctant to expand the IT capability situated locally in emerging markets. A ‘hub and spoke’ strategy has proved the most popular, with firms hubbing their IT platform in either Hong Kong or Singapore and then providing remote support to locations such as Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.”
The demand for professionals also results in part from new business models. “In the past, many projects were centred on off-shoring themes whereby institutions moved their back offices to Asia to achieve cost efficiency”, said Pan. “However, these days, many of these projects are specifically catered for Asian businesses. Asia is now directly driving much of the demand for new services.” Moreover, said Owens, “a number of the large scale transformation projects are due to corporate mergers and acquisitions that have taken place over the past 18 months, with platforms converging into a single system.” Further, “changes in legislation and reporting requirements have dictated changes in the functionality of finance systems, whilst a desire amongst the banks to achieve an increased market share is driving investments in cash management and payments platforms.”
While many of the new hires are local, there are still opportunities for professionals based outside the region to land jobs. In the IT sector in particular, Owens said, “demand for skilled professionals has increased globally as well as across the region, and firms in Singapore are now competing for talent with organisations in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Sydney, as well as London and mainland Europe, with some demand from North America.”
Many IT professionals working in Tokyo are looking to return to their country of origin, which includes Singapore and Hong Kong. There has recently been an increase in the number of UK and Canada-based candidates looking to gain experience in Asia. Hong Kong and Singapore are also popular locations for candidates currently situated in India and looking to gain international work experience.
Zaixian notes that “between London and New York, we see more overseas candidates from the former. These overseas candidates include expatriates who are working in London and looking to relocate to Asia.”
There has also been a shift in Northeast Asia, too, according to Zaixian. “Tokyo used to be rather popular, although due to its current flat domestic economy as well as the growth of other markets, we have seen more interest diverted to cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.” It’s important to note, though, that while there is still significant talent migration within Asian markets, mobility may be limited to some extent due to language barriers.
While most of the roles in Singapore are on a ‘permanent’ basis, there is also a growing demand for contractors. For example, Owens explains that in Hong Kong, “within the banking sector, we are seeing 75% of roles for IT professionals being offered on a permanent basis and 25% on a contract or fixed term basis.”
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