Banks in Asia scramble for transaction talent

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Banks in Asia are searching locally, and sometimes globally, for better talent in transaction banking as companies in the region become increasingly dissatisfied with the service and products provided by their current bankers.

Transaction banking, which includes trade finance and cash management, is seen as a secure revenue stream for banks, who continue to hire in the sector.

Four in 10 Asian-based companies said they would change their primary bank in the next six months, according to the Asian Transaction Banking report by Australian consultancy East & Partners. Poor relationships with bankers was cited by 67.3 percent of the 1,000 companies surveyed, while the reported also noted the need to improve the products banks offered to corporate clients.

Amid this competitive business environment, banks in Asia were beefing their transaction-banking teams with both sales and product staff, said Singapore-based Gary Lai, managing director, Southeast Asia at recruitment firm Charterhouse Partnership.

“Most transaction-banking players are looking to seriously invest in new products, services and people to cater to the rising demand from corporates and grab market share in this low-risk, low-margin, stable business,” said Tanya Sinha, an associate director at Singapore search firm Kerry Consulting.

Deutsche Bank, for example, has recently revamped its range of transaction-banking products in Asia. The German firm has also joined a long list of banks – which includes Citigroup, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, and Singapore firms DBS and UOB – that are hiring in Asian transaction banking, said another recruiter in Singapore, who asked not to be named because of client confidentially. Banks contacted in Singapore would not comment on their hiring plans. Recent high-profile appointments in Asia include Vivek Batra becoming global head of sales for transaction banking at DBS in January.

While the expansion of multinational companies in Asia and the growth of Asian companies globally were driving recruitment in transaction banking, the regulatory environment had also played a part, Sinha from Kerry said. “Basel III, for example, has given rise to additional ways of managing cash and hence the increase in demand for corporate-deposits and liquidity-management professionals.”

Demand for trade-finance talent is also high in Singapore, which is an international trading and shipping hub. “Both trade-finance sales and operations positions are in abundance, especially from senior associate to vice president,” said Chris Mead, Singapore general manager of recruiters Hays.

Across transaction banking, Asian experience is needed for sales and relationship-management jobs because they depend on local client networks. But banks in Singapore, especially those who focus on servicing multinational clients, might consider overseas-based professionals for product-development or IT roles, Lai from Charterhouse said. Such candidates are typically sourced from mature markets like London, New York and Sydney, Mead added. But it’s tougher for international job seekers in Hong Kong, where Mandarin language skills are increasingly important even for product roles.

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