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The bizarre Asian banking role where banks want to hire but candidates don’t want to move jobs

He manages change

Change management was the counter-cyclical job function of choice in the wake of the financial crisis in Asia. When banks in the region were swinging the axe in 2008 (and again three years later) they needed managers who could help guide them through redundancies.

This year change managers are back en vogue at banks in Singapore and Hong Kong, but it’s regulatory reform, not restructuring, which is driving the demand for their leadership skills.

Banks are working on a range of in-house regulatory-implementation initiatives – in particular around Basel III, FATCA, and recent local laws such as Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act – and they need to hire compliance/regulatory change managers for leadership roles within these projects.

“There is now an active job market for change managers due to various regulatory changes in banking, both locally and globally,” says Jamie Wood, manager, financial services, at Robert Walters in Singapore.

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The technological upgrades needed for compliance with these new regulations are also driving demand for IT change managers, says Axer Goh, associate director, technology, at recruiters Kerry Consulting in Singapore.

While in theory there are enough regulatory CMs based in Singapore and Hong Kong to meet current demand, recruiters bemoan their reluctant to change companies. “Permanent candidates in this space are particularly careful about moving into similar jobs at the same level, hence salary levels for such roles are being driven up,” says Wood.

Banks are keenest to dole out significant pay rises (20% or more) when there is an urgent need to meet a regulatory requirement, says Lee Tze Yong, head of financial services and accounting and finance at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership in Singapore.

Counter offers are also on the rise this year in change management. “Banks don’t want to lose talent as the cost of recruiting a new headcount will be scrutinised and will likely be expensive,” says Wood.

Technical skills alone won’t get you a CM job. “The key factor to perform the role well is the ability to manage and engage your stakeholders and staff,” says Lee. “Regulatory projects need experienced people to spearhead and coordinate them because they are usually comprise of staff from across different divisions.”

If you want to make your first move into change management, you are advised to first clock up some ad hoc “change experience” in your current role, such as a period working on a particular regulatory project, advises Wood. And while banks do sometimes second existing employees from their overseas offices into Asian CM roles, they are usually reluctant to relocate external foreign candidates.

Most Asian regulatory change management vacancies are at large US and European corporate and investment banks – CMs help them meet regional spikes in demand and ensure regional compliance with firm-wide regulatory best-practice. By contrast, local banks in Singapore and Hong Kong already run their entire compliance functions out of Asia, so are more inclined to hire compliance generalists rather than regional project-based staff.

There’s a roughly equal split between fixed-term and permanent CM jobs in Asia. “Contract assignments are usually not the preferred job type for many candidates in Asia,” says Goh from Kerry Consulting. Not all contracts are renewed once the regulatory project is complete.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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