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Mass moves expected as banks in Singapore look to hire in a hurry

Private banks in Singapore are primed to hire whole new teams from rivals in the coming months as recruiting lone senior bankers becomes an increasingly unviable way to boost their market share.

While so-called “team moves” have been growing in popularity since 2010 when Swiss firm BSI finished poaching more than 100 staff from Coutts, headhunters say they will become even more common in 2015 as more private banks expand amid a talent-short and client-dependent job market.

“When private banks want to hire a senior relationship manager, they almost always look to move some or all of that person’s team – it will be very difficult now to expand without team moves, given the strong competition for talent in Singapore this year,” says Rahul Sen, head of private wealth management at search firm The Omerta Group in Singapore.

[efc_twitter text="Several firms are expected to be vying for senior private bankers in Singapore this bonus season"]. Bank of Singapore, which added 100 staff last year, will continue to expand under new CEO Bahren Shaari, while Credit Suisse, UBS and Deutsche Bank will also be among the “more aggressive recruiters”, according to another Singapore headhunter who asked not to be named because of client confidentiality. And although Barclays and Standard Chartered may be restructuring globally, they have “budgets to hire” in Asian private banking.

Sen says he always asks senior private bankers whether their subordinates want to leave – and about half the time they do. Most team moves involve between about four and eight staff. “They might all go together or the bank might say ‘let’s get the big guy first’ and then the others follow about six months later.”

The personal, relationship-driven nature of private banking also makes team moves more common than in other parts of financial services. Private clients often develop strong relationships with several staff members, not just the senior banker, and are reluctant to move their money to a new firm unless the team stays largely intact.

“If out of $500m in his assets under management (AUM) a senior banker manages $300m himself for his most important clients, his juniors may manage $100m each for his lower-value clients,” explains Sen. “And there may also be a couple of assistants in his team that all his clients have become used to working with.”

“A new bank may be offering 20% more on base salary, but what the clients want is more important as it affects AUM. Neither the banker nor the employer want to reinvent the wheel,” adds Sen.

Mass exits also make it difficult for the former employer to retain any business with clients of the departed team. “The bank will have to replace the whole team and the new bankers won’t have relationships with these clients,” says the anonymous headhunter.

But team moves in private banking aren’t always successful, he adds. “Sometimes these teams can be quite insular and won’t integrate well into the new bank. And the bank should consider value for money and avoid hiring underperformers in the team, unless there’s a strong case to bring that individual along.”

If you’re a junior banker and your manager taps you for a job at another firm, you are advised to give the offer serious consideration. “This is the best way to get a new banking job in Singapore because you already have a strong working relationship with a senior stakeholder. This move can fast forward your career significantly at relatively no risk,” Craig Brewer, a director at recruitment firm FiveTen Group in Singapore, wrote in an article published last month.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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