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Singapore tech firms head-to-head with banks on hiring crusade

Razer has a history of hiring tech professionals from the banking field.

Tech firms that operate payments apps in Singapore are stepping up their hiring – and targeting the same developers that big banks now also want to bring on board.

The latest company to launch an e-wallet in the Republic is local gaming firm Razer, which released a test version of its Razer Pay app earlier this month ahead of a full roll-out later this year. Razer already has a history of hiring tech professionals with a banking background. Its director of product, Weng-Keen Yeong, is a 27-year finance industry veteran who was most recently an enterprise solution architect at OCBC.

Singapore is now awash with payments apps, including GrabPay, which launched in November 2017 and is headed up by Gary Wong, who also joined from OCBC. Not all payments firms that provide services in Singapore employ technologists locally, but many do. Global players TransferWise and Revolut have both recently opened Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. Just last month, Revolut announced plans to create new jobs in the “fintech friendly” city state, adding that it needs skills such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, and user interface design. Smaller home-grown firms like FlexM, FomoPay, and HitPay have also started up.

All this business expansion at payments firms is creating more jobs, says Naren Ganjoo, head of technology at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Singapore, adding that microservices, multithreading, and high-latency experience is in demand. Knowledge of Java and Angular is also sought after, says Clarence Quek, a senior client solutions director at recruitment firm Randstad. “There’s continued demand for developers, not just for product-development work, but also for R&D, and innovation,” he says.

The recent and rapid surge in payments recruitment in Singapore has, however, created a “constant shortage” of developers with the right skills, says Quek. While this is bad news for payments firms, it’s even worse news for banks, many of which are developing their own mobile wallets (e.g. DBS PayLah, and UOB Mighty) in Singapore. While banks sometimes partner with Singapore payments businesses, they also increasingly need to recruit in-house developers.

“Companies from both the financial and the technology sectors want to hire tech professionals with the same skills and experience, especially those who have worked on payment solutions before,” says Quek. “But at the moment it’s the tech firms that have more opportunities for developers,” he adds.

Payments firms, not banks, typically have the pick of the top junior to mid-level developers who make up the bulk of hires in the sector, says April Jimenez, a senior consultant at recruiters Huxley in Singapore. Banks compete for candidates more effectively at a managerial level, largely because they offer better-paid senior jobs. A head of engineering or development at a small payments firm can earn up to S$150k on average (with an equity stake but no bonus), while a similar position at a large bank can pay as much as S$380k, along with a bonus of about two months’ salary, says Jimenez. “Job stability also comes into play for senior people – tech firms can get sold off or acquired,” she adds.

Jimenez says technologists at all levels in Singapore tend to think that start-up payments firms will offer them “a more relaxed work atmosphere” (think, casual clothing, well-stocked pantries, and air-hockey tables). This may be more perception that reality, however. DBS has recently relaxed its dress code for technologists (jeans and even shorts are allowed), while Revolut has been criticised recently for its long working hours and high staff turnover. And when we spoke with developers at Grab last year, they didn’t exactly rave about its offices. “I’d rate it about 7.5 out of 10. Grab didn’t hop on the bandwagon of ping pong tables or in-house cafes,” one techie there told us.

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