Unemployed bankers accept contracts on 25% less pay

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If you’re unemployed in Asia, now may be the time to swallow your pride and consider a fixed-term contract role. Your compensation could be cut by a quarter compared with your last permanent job, but with banks not hiring much right now, a contract may be your best bet of finding work.

More contract positions have sprung up in the last six months because banks in Asia are under pressure to keep employee costs under control. Contractors usually do stints of between three and 12 months. Because they're usually paid through recruitment agencies, they aren't included in banks' headcount budgets.

Barclays and Credit Suisse are hiring back-office contractors in Singapore for jobs that are soon to be offshored to India, said a recruiter in Singapore who asked not to be named. “There’s no point employing someone permanently when the job is going overseas; contracts give these banks more flexibility,” he added.

Standard Chartered wants contractors for short-term assignments, such business analysts dealing with information technology integration projects, said the recruiter. The bank declined to comment.

Contractors are increasingly being sought for roles in IT, product control, finance and accounting, settlements, and client services, said Craig Brewer, a director at recruitment firm Hudson in Singapore.

More regulations are also driving contract hiring in regulatory reporting, risk and compliance, said Marc Burrage, regional director of recruiters Hays in Hong Kong. “But this is a difficult task – it’s hard enough to find permanent staff in compliance because demand is so high,” said Amy Ho, banking and financial services director at recruitment agency Ambition in Hong Kong.

Contractual challenges

Unless they're unemployed, few finance specialists want to  work on a contract basis. “In most cases it’s not a career choice; it’s a stop-gap measure or a foot in the door,” said Burrage from Hays.

Along with a “negative stigma” that comes with not being on the permanent payroll, contracts in Asia, unlike those in larger contracting markets like the UK and Australia, don’t pay high hourly rates, said Ho from Ambition. “You will be paid monthly and your total compensation could be about 25% less than someone doing the same job permanently,” added Brewer from Hudson.

The benefits aren’t great either: your annual leave could be worse than an employee’s and you may not get medical insurance. “If a perm role comes alone, people will sometimes just leave their contracts, although banks try to prevent this by paying project-completion bonuses,” said Sonia Fuller, director of Singapore recruiters KS Consulting.

“But there are also opportunities for contract roles to be converted into permanent ones,” said Sacha Philp, manager, finance and accounting, contracting division, at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore.

Overseas-based candidates wanting to move to Asia, however, aren't usually hired for contract roles. Banks don't want to pay for relocation and employment visa are difficult to obtain for short-term stints.

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