Investment banks in Asia hiring ‘washed out’ traders for compliance roles, doubling pay

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Want to work among the nouveau riche of Asian banking? You are advised to consider compliance – a role where pay rises exceed those of the front office and banks are trying to fill Asian talent shortages by retraining “washed out” traders.

Compliance professionals have, of course, been hotly sought after for several years in Asia. Now banks are ramping up their teams not just to handle to usual regulatory burden but also to cope with the compliance demands of an excepted pick-up in deal-flow from the front office.

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The supply of compliance candidates, meanwhile, is slim and banks have been forced to offer eye-watering increases in base pay to new hires, according to the senior HR professionals from international and Asian financial institutions who attended recent eFinancialCareers roundtable discussions in Hong Kong and Singapore.

“It’s out of control this year – salaries are going up faster than in revenue-generating jobs. A compliance guy left us three years ago for another bank and we recently rehired him for 2.5 x more than what we paid him before,” said one of the roundtable attendees in Hong Kong, all of whom asked not to be named in this report.

Salary spikes of 30% to 40% for those who change companies are “now normal this year in Hong Kong”, added the same attendee, who works for a European bank. Salaries for compliance pros with more than eight years’ experience in Hong Kong start at US$170k, according to Robert Walters, so a 40% uptick could potentially add $68k to your base pay.

“Candidates are savvy about pay – they’re speaking to recruiters all the time, so they know the type of percentage they can get for moving firms. They are very aware of they own worth and are taking full advantage,” said a Hong Kong roundtable delegate from an investment bank.

Pay levels are also being ratcheted up by Machiavellian compliance officers who go for new roles in order to get counter offers from their current employers, said a delegate from a bulge bracket bank. “Base salaries in compliance haven’t actually been rising that much the last few years, so now people are making up for lost time,” she added.

A HR person from a commercial bank in Hong Kong said her firm was also offering guaranteed bonuses to attract new compliance talent and increasing annual bonuses to retain staff.

While banks in Asia do sometimes relocate compliance pros from Western markets, knowledge of local regulations and relationships with local regulators are needed for most roles. Regional transfers between Singapore and Hong Kong are more common.

More radically, some firms are now considering candidates who don’t have compliance experience, according to several delegates at the eFinancialCareers roundtable in Singapore.

“We’re now looking at washed-out traders and salespeople who’ve lived the life in the front office and want out,” said an HR person from a global investment firm in Singapore. “We back-train them in compliance and it’s not actually a hard sell because compliance pay is going up so much, especially this year.”

Similarly, as we reported last week, banks are also searching far and wide for their internal audit employees in Asia.

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