The desperate search for back-office bosses in Hong Kong and Singapore

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Global banks that have recently offshored junior back-office jobs out of Singapore and Hong Kong are now struggling to find senior staff as they attempt to ramp up operations recruitment.

The likes of Barclays, Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered want to hire regional managers at VP level and above in Singapore and Hong Kong to help lead teams based locally and in offshore markets like Malaysia, India and the Philippines. But finding back-office bosses with regional experience is proving troublesome.

“It’s usually the production team that is offshored – banks still need more back-office managers sitting in Singapore or Hong Kong,” says Diksha Mahtani, a consultant at recruitment agency Morgan McKinley in Singapore.

“We've seen an increase in jobs for senior candidates in the back-office – permanent roles. Juniors in Singapore are mainly just hired as contractors these days,” adds Lim Chaileng, an associate director at recruiters Randstad in Singapore.

Because managers in the front and middle office remain firmly rooted in Singapore and Hong Kong, global banks prefer keeping their operations peers also based in those cities. “This makes them closer to the business, which is useful for immediate decision making, handling escalations and conducting approvals and checks,” says Lim.

Senior-level operations recruitment is most buoyant in regulatory-reporting, payments, trade-support and client-onboarding in Singapore and Hong Kong, according to recruiters. “It’s in these particular areas that people are usually required to manage both local and remote staff,” says Christine Wright, Asia managing director of recruitment firm Hays.

Back-office skill shortages

Although global banks increasingly want people capable of handling the challenges of regional and remote management, they are struggling to find them in Hong Kong and Singapore. Junior-level offshoring, which started about five years ago, has now stemmed the normal flow of potential managers joining the sector and moving up the ranks.

“There is certainly less managerial talent in operations in Singapore now than there was four to five years ago,” says Wright. “Offshoring has meant back-office roles have recently gained a reputation for being unstable, so fewer people are looking to move into this area, preferring a controls-based job in internal audit, risk or compliance.”

“There's not a lot of back-office staff who now have managerial experience in Singapore because team structures have been too flat in the past,” adds Lim from Randstad.

Gary Lai, Southeast Asia managing director at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership, points to another problem: “There are gaps for back-office staff with managerial experience in Singapore partly because many of these jobs were held by foreigners, so with the government now encouraging banks to give locals the first ‘fair consideration’ for new vacancies, an immediate talent vacuum is created.”

Boosting the pool of back-office regional managers in Singapore and Hong Kong will take time, says Lai. “But I think internal training and promotion opportunities for local staff will eventually overcome the talent shortage.”

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