Hiring spree causes big headcount rise in one department, but profits plunge at Standard Chartered

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Standard Chartered staff won’t take much pleasure perusing the firm’s half-year results, which were released today – but those in legal and compliance jobs have little to complain about.

Income at the emerging-markets focused British bank fell 5% to $9,269m year-on-year, while profit before tax plunged 20% to $3,268m. The fall was largely blamed on SCB’s Asian arm, which accounts for up to 75% of its revenues, in particular its struggling Korean business where restructuring has caused a 9% cut in headcount since this time last year.

The bank is also under investigation by New York’s financial regulator for its failure to flag up transactions vulnerable to money laundering. With the firm facing fines that could potentially run into hundreds of millions of dollars, Standard Chartered’s report was at pains to emphasise a hiring spree in compliance over the past 12 months.

“We have brought in extensive and senior level expertise as part of a 30% increase in legal and compliance headcount, including a doubling of headcount in financial crime,” the report states. “We have established a board-level Financial Crime Risk Oversight Committee, launched a Financial Crime Risk Mitigation Programme, and we are undertaking de-risking actions across the business.”

As at HSBC, the rising cost of regulatory compliance at Standard Chartered is helping to restrict its ability to recruit in other departments – across the firm, headcount is down. “Costs remain tightly controlled and staff costs rose 2% compared to H1 2013 as inflationary increases were partly offset by lower headcount,” said the report.

Average headcount for the first six months of this year was 87,391, compared with 89,190 for the same period last year, with "business" rather than "support" roles accounting for most of the decline.

A spate of negative news coming from Standard Chartered in recent months – the bank issued a profit warning in June – has also dampened the enthusiasm of some job seekers in its core Asian markets.

In Singapore – SCB’s Asian headquarters and home to some of its global support functions – the bank employs some 7,400 staff and is one of the city state’s largest and oldest financial-sector employers.

“Standard Chartered was the preferred employer in Singapore two years ago but it has slipped from that spot,” says a recruiter in Singapore who chose to remain anonymous because of client confidentiality. “Its recent results will fail to impress current employees, while its cost-control exercises have brought the wrong kind of attention from job seekers.”

Hong Kong and China, however, bucked the downward revenue trend, with income up 3% and 15% respectively as SCB benefited from “increasing inter-connectivity” between the two markets. SCB continues to make high-profile senior appointments in North Asia, with Fred Leung joining from Meridian Capital as head of M&A, Greater China, earlier this month.

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