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Financial companies start to increase hiring as Singapore returns from the Circuit Breaker

By Andrew McNeilis

As with all industries, the financial services sector has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, we are beginning to see what shape the economic recovery will take – as well as the state of the labour market. What hiring trends will emerge? What skills will be in demand? In Singapore, three themes have become clear: the hiring freeze is thawing, the market is flooded with quality candidates, and transformation roles have become critical.

Adapting the business model
Many industry sectors have been adversely impacted by the “Lockdown”. From a commercial leadership perspective, the immediate and medium-term challenge will be for businesses to ensure they assess, adapt, and where necessary, pivot their core business model to ensure profitability.

Sector by sector this will certainly be the case and for banking and financial services there will be no exception. It is wholly understood that traditional fee-generating activities may no longer be guaranteed, and new revenue streams will be needed. These require analysis, assessment, planning and transformation.

From a talent perspective, this will present huge challenges – the urgent need to assess the existing skills within an organisation, to either retrain, redirect high-quality talent to be successfully deployed to new markets or hire in the right talent with the newly required technical and behavioural skills.

The end of the hiring freeze
Many companies turned towards the most prevalent organisational strategies – downsizing and salary reduction. Before the pandemic, many banks had already announced plans to cut jobs. Thankfully, the tide is turning and as countries and businesses reopen their doors, hiring is back on the agenda. Whilst many companies have been faced with difficult people-related decisions, hiring freezes and redundancies offer short term savings and enhanced efficiency at a long term cost – downsizing threatens innovation and jeopardises a company’s future. To remain globally competitive and sustain growth, hiring will be the top priority for companies across the Asia Pacific.

Today, companies know they will need to backfill business-critical positions to survive and thrive over the next two-to-three years and financial services professionals are well-aware that the job market is still in their favour.

According to the latest Selby Jennings Global Job Confidence Index, Asia Pacific is the most optimistic about the current and future economy and the job market. Banking and financial services professionals from the region are most confident in their job security or in their ability to find new employment. Their sentiment expresses what we are witnessing across Singapore – the end of hiring freezes.

A flooded candidate market, but not for long
As unemployment levels increased due to downsizing measures, Singapore’s job market has flooded with rare, quality talent. Whilst financial services professionals are positive about Singapore’s job market – stringent circuit breaker rules have restricted their movement and career opportunities. With the global lockdown and visa restrictions, it has been difficult for Singapore professionals to relocate abroad for work. For banks and financial services firms in the position to hire, this is a fantastic opportunity because they will not have to compete for talent in a global market.

Of course, this has also prohibited talent relocating to Singapore – and as the global recovery takes shape, aided by unprecedented global quantitative easing, this window of opportunity may be short. Despite recent events, there still exists skills and talent shortage and this will be further squeezed once available talent is snapped up.

Particularly in areas such as corporate and investment banking, as well as investment management, employers should prepare for this talent squeeze to coincide with intensive hiring and growth efforts towards the end of 2020.

Transformation roles become critical
During these uncertain times, banks and financial services firms are doing everything they can to get through. For this reason, business and digital transformation roles have become essential.

Despite the downturn, DBS has committed to hiring over 2,000 people in Singapore. Likewise, OCBC has said it is hiring 3,000 people who can create digital banking solutions. Whilst UOB has said it has the ‘highest number of trainees’ in Singapore’s Technology in Finance Immersion Programme (TFIP), which helps mid-career individuals looking for new tech roles in the finance sector.

However, the skills and experience required for these roles are rare and, therefore, hard to fill. Foreign talent could no longer be recruited into the nation due to circuit breaker rule. WhilstSingapore’s borders are slowly reopening, most companies have resorted to promoting internal talent to fill transformation roles. However, many do not have quite the necessary skills, experience, or seniority – putting the success of transformation projects at risk.

For this reason, many banks and financial services firms are seeking external guidance on how to find, attract, and keep the right people. Whilst the dialogue has been quiet for the past several months, now we are receiving requests for market information to help form hiring strategies moving forward.

Post-circuit breaker
Though there are shocks and lost opportunities, there are still green shoots of optimism to nurture. Companies who are in the position to be more bullish with their hiring efforts will be able to harvest top talent, despite turbulent labour market conditions. It is promising that banking and financial services professionals are confident in Singapore’s and Asia Pacific’s ability to recover and lead. 

It has often been said that in terms of a successful society and economy, “Demographics are destiny”. As a result, the ability to find, attract and keep the very best talent will be among the top three things that keep CEOs awake at night.

As markets improve we often forget that every single day, thousands of employees effectively fire their employer – “I’m off to the competitor.”

Smart companies will use the next six months to hone their hiring and retention strategies - by doing this right will give them the ultimate competitive advantage in the knowledge economy. 

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