Competing For Talent in Asia

The need for more talent in treasury, transaction banking and payments comes up in conversation as one of the top issues for financial institutions and corporates alike in 2011. Even amid the strong economic growth throughout most of the Asia-Pacific region, companies will only be able to take full advantage of the opportunities if they have the right people in place to support their own expansion.

In an assessment of the 2011 outlook for Singapore, for example, Standard & Poor’s specifically singled out treasury and said “we see an improving environment for Singapore’s banks in 2011 with steady economic growth to provide support as well as a pick-up in treasury activity.” Publicly and privately, other forecasters are saying similar things.

Executive recruiters also expect a tight hiring market. In Singapore, recruitment firm Michael Page said that “as the popularity of Singapore as a financial hub grows, companies are expanding their operations and establishing new offices and regional headquarters. This activity is expected to further increase the demand for finance professionals in 2011. Niche skills in areas such as treasury and tax continue to be highly sought after.”

While the competition for talent may not be quite as acute in Hong Kong as in Singapore this year and recruitment firm Hudson said, “the search for talent is less competitive than it was last year,” talent is still in demand. Robert Walters, for example, said, “highly sought-after roles will remain similar to the previous year” (2010), particularly including niche sectors such as treasury and commodities.

A key issue, then, is where banks and corporates are going to find the talent they need. One way, as David Blair discusses (LINK: http://gtnews.afponline.org/article/8333.cfm) in this month’s Asia Bulletin, is by bringing in talent from other regions. Indeed, many corporates have used this method at varying levels, from middle management on through to the top leadership, especially with the talent pool available in other markets during the economic downturn. While this opportunity is still available for some positions, companies may be using this option less as they focus more on local knowledge or language needs and as some markets or companies have slowed foreign hiring.

Another longer-term initiative is training and partnerships. DBS Bank in Singapore, for example, is working with Singapore Management University to create and jointly teach a course that will help “develop corporate treasury talent in a professional field that has grown in demand and sophistication.” Companies are also expanding their internal and external training programs or capabilities so that they can expand the skills of existing staff and have a wider base of potential recruits in the future.

Some companies are also focusing more on retaining the staff they already have. As Hong Kong-based Christine Greybe of DHR told MarketWatch when discussing China, “a lot of attention is going towards finding ways to keep talent, which is very unusual to anything we saw before.” The same is true in other markets too.

As the competition for talent continues, companies that develop the most creative solutions are likely to benefit the most by expanding their staff and capabilities to meet their customers’ needs.

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