The “easier” route into a job at a global bank in Asia

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You’re applying for a graduate job at a global bank in Singapore but you know that places are limited and competition is strong. Goldman Sachs notoriously only hires around 4% of those who want to get through the door.

If the international firms reject you, however, there is still a potential way to make sure you end up working for one in the near future: secure a graduate role at a Singaporean bank – DBS, OCBC or UOB – instead and leave for a global player after two or three years.

The local firms have the largest headcounts in the Singaporean banking sector and take on hundreds of new graduates each year. “It’s generally considered easier to get your first job there. By comparison it’s becoming almost impossible to get into an international bank, there are so few roles in Singapore for the number of applicants,” says a final-year student who’s currently applying for 2016 traineeships.

Fortunately, if you join a Singaporean bank after graduation your chances of joining a foreign firm as your next move are rising. “The perception that candidates from local banks are not top-tier calibre is outdated and it’s now more common to move from local banks into global banks. This is set to continue – they can’t afford to ignore such a significant talent pool,” says Will Russell, a director at recruitment company Ambition in Singapore.

“The increasingly strong reputation of Singapore banks means their employees are usually attractive to expanding and established multinational banks in Singapore. Strong performers with relevant experience are now often approached by foreign firms,” adds Scott Townend, a team lead at recruiters Randstad in Singapore.

DBS, OCBC and UOB were all ranked among the 10 most financially sound banks in the world by Bloomberg earlier this year. The more “risk-adverse mindset” of employees at local firms make them attractive to global institutions who are struggling with an increasing compliance burden, says an analyst at a Singaporean bank, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The strength of their local client connections makes junior wealth managers and corporate bankers well placed to swap Singaporean banks for global ones. Compliance and risk professionals are predictably in demand because of sector-wide skill shortages. But it’s more difficult for investment bankers and traders because they are moving from much smaller platforms – only star performers need apply.

Don't stay on too long?

How long should you stay at a Singaporean bank before moving? “I want to commit to my first job for at least two years and won’t be actively looking until then, but if an opportunity knocks before then I will take it,” says the analyst.

Moving three years after graduation is common, says Jasmine Tan, an associate director at recruiters Kerry Consulting. “I don’t think you get stuck at a local bank. It’s just that when you stay beyond 10 years at any firm, there’s always a concern that you may not be able to adapt easily to a new employer.”

Tan says the young banking professionals who make the move typically want to gain more international exposure, including the chance to be based abroad. The analyst agrees: “I definitely want to move to a global firm – the deal exposure here still feels too localised. I want international exposure and to pick up the varying nuances of dealing across markets.”

Singaporean banks, meanwhile, are boosting their poaching from foreign firms as they expand their regional headcounts – so moving the other way is also increasingly viable.

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