The Australian finance job where demand for staff has surged by 72%

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If you’re an operational risk professional in Australia, now is a good time to ask for a pay rise or promotion. Alternatively, simply wait for a new employer to headhunt you and then consider pushing for a juicy counteroffer.

Banks in Australia have urgent vacancies to fill – for both “first line of defence” (risk people embedded within the front office) and second-line (centralised ops-risk teams) roles.

Recruitment agency Marks Sattin has noticed a 72% increase in Australian vacancies for operational risk managers when comparing the first quarter of this year to the same period in 2013.

“This shift is down to increased stability in Australian financial markets and a renewed confidence in financial institutions making long-term strategic decisions,” says Joe McGinty, manager, operations, risk and compliance, at Marks Sattin in Sydney.

Domestic regulatory requirements, in particular phase 2 of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act, are also causing foreign banks and Australia’s Big Four local banks – ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac – to recruit in ops risk.

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“With significant regulatory fines being issued globally, risk assurance has been a key focus, so international banks have bolstered their existing teams both in Australia and across Asia Pacific,” says Henry Smith, manager, internal audit, risk management and compliance, at recruitment firm Robert Walters in Sydney. “Significant restructures at some of Australia’s largest banks and fund managers have driven recruitment, too.”

The updating of IT systems, particularly at the Big Four banks, has increased the need for technology ops-risk professionals, says Allira Salem, national account manager at recruiters Kelly Services in Sydney.

“Domestic and large international banks will continue to compete for talent this year, especially firms with a focus on productivity improvement, who want ensure that internal procedures meet best-practice and mitigate risk throughout the business,” says Salem. “Most ops-risk people will be headhunted rather than have to actively look for new opportunities.”

Hard to hire

Demand may be strong, but banks have exacting recruitment standards. “What sets you apart is the ability to enhance the reputation of an ORM framework and to get full buy-in from stakeholders across the organisation. This personality type, alongside the technical ability, is proving a difficult combination to attract,” says McGinty from Marks Sattin.

The skill shortage in operational risk is most acute in the three to six-year experience level, because of reduced graduate hiring in Australia between 2008 and 2011, says Smith from Robert Walters.

And with talent hard to come by, compensation is generous for a mid-office role in Australia, with VPs commanding salaries in the A$180-$220k range, according McGinty. “Employers are happy to pay a premium to get the right people in place. There is fierce competition for the leading professionals, with many being counter offered by their existing employers – but not always successfully,” he adds.

Banks are hiring overseas-based candidates, especially expat Australians, for ops-risk roles. “There is a genuine shortage of expertise here and organisations are having some success in attracting Australian risk professionals back from location like London, Hong Kong and Singapore,” says McGinty.

As is the case in Asia, banks in Australia are also open to hiring candidates from other job functions, in particular internal audit.  “And with an increased focus on product knowledge, we are also seeing candidates from back-office operations functions move into line-one risk roles,” says Smith.

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