The overlooked front-office Asian banking job with strong hiring and 20% salary spikes

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If you’re looking for a client-schmoozing corporate banking job, you should consider starting your search in Singapore.

Banks are seeking relationship managers who can win them clients from Singapore’s thriving corporate sector. Driven by banks competing to loan money to local businesses, total bank lending in Singapore rose to S$574.2 billion (US$452.4 billion) in December, a 17.4% year-on-year increase, according to the latest data from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

“The hiring of relationship managers at corporate banks is becoming more active in tandem with this increase in lending,” says Lee Tze Yong, head of financial services at recruitment firm Charterhouse Partnership in Singapore. “There is a constant demand for good RMs, especially in the mid-caps or SME segments and in certain client sectors like commodities.”

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Hiring of corporate-banking RMs has been strong for the last six months and demand could potentially increase even more in March once bonuses are paid, says Matthew Gardner, divisional manager at recruiters Ambition in Singapore.

The banks fuelling the hiring of RMs fall into three main camps, according to a recruiter in Singapore who asked to remain anonymous: International (Citi and Standard Chartered are the “most aggressive”); Singaporean (DBS, OCBC and UOB); and Australian (ANZ leads the pack).

Strong demand from these banks and a “narrow” pool of candidates in Singapore are driving up salaries for experienced RMs who move firms, says Gardner. “We have seen occasions where banks have offered greater-than-average increments, rises of about 20%, to capture the best talent in what is becoming an increasingly competitive area,” he adds.

That’s a hefty five-figure rise if you’re a top RM. At VP to director level, the annual-salary range for corporate-banking RMs in Singapore is S$180k – S$300k (US$142k – US$236k), according to the Robert Walters Salary Survey 2014.

Becoming an elite corporate-banking RM, however, is no easy task. You will need the following skills and experience at VP level and above, according to Angela Kuek, director of search firm The Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore: “A proven deal track record, client relationships, strong influencing and negotiation skills, and the ability to open doors, originate deals, garner buy-in internally and pull together product and credit partners.”

Credit-analysis skills are also increasingly important as RMs must ensure the credit risk of their corporate clients is not compromised, says Lee from Charterhouse. “Good relationship managers will also cross-sell other products, especially transaction banking or global market products, that generate good fee-based income,” he adds.

While a bulging client book will help you clinch a more senior RM role, banks are busy grooming their own people for own junior jobs. “They are offering internal transfers to staff who may not have relevant experience but have the attributes to be a RM,” adds Lee.

He says external candidates will be considered for junior positions if they have a “strong numerical background” – think credit analysts and Big Four auditors. But bean-crunching wallflowers are not welcome, however – you must still be able to charm the clients.