The new flood of finance technology jobs heading for Hong Kong and Singapore

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Banks in Asia are hiring more data scientists this year to help improve their services to local clients – and you don’t need to be working at a bank right now to clinch one of these jobs.

“In the past few months we’ve received more and more requests to find data scientists in Singapore. This isn’t just from local banks, but from global banks who are no longer only basing these roles in their home countries – they need more people on the ground to help Asian clients,” says Christina Ng, executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. “Banks in Asia are now starting to play catch-up in terms of data jobs.”

“With the advent of mobile and online payment platforms, banks in Asia are seeing a very real threat to their traditional core business and are now fully embracing big data,” adds Christine Wright, managing director of recruiters Hays in Asia.

In January, Goldman Sachs responded to this threat by entering the big data industry in Asia through its US$56m investment deal with Singapore analytics company Antuit Holdings. But data analytics isn’t just about outsourcing – the Singapore government is encouraging banks to base their in-house operations in the city state, with data analytics across all sectors expected to contribute S$1bn to the economy by 2017. Banks including J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Citi are expanding their teams in Singapore and Hong Kong, say recruiters.

“As far as investment banks go, analytics jobs primarily have an equities focus – analysis of clients’ trading patterns, for example, can create opportunities to cross-sell or improve client consultancy,” says Vince Natteri, director of recruitment at search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong. “We’ve recently seen a lot of hires in commercial and retail banking too, with major banks looking for patterns in large data sets.”

Data analysts are also in demand within wealth management. “Private banks are recruiting data analysts because they can use data from their clients and from social media platforms to predict market movements and to target their clients with tailored products,” says Wright from Hays.

DBS is, for example, using IBM’s Watson platform to process large volumes of data to produce research reports for clients. “Sophisticated CRM platforms and user-friendly interfaces are increasingly essential to keeping private banking clients informed about the status of their portfolios,” says Wright.

The inevitable problem for banks is that the rise in data-analyst vacancies has happened too quickly, making candidates hard to find. In December 2013 Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, bemoaned a sector-wide lack of data scientists. The skill shortage hasn’t improved since then and it also affects Hong Kong, say recruiters.

In Singapore, the Fair Consideration Framework has made it more difficult to hire overseas fintech talent, especially at the junior to mid level. “This has seen the demand for suitably experienced local data analysts reach new heights,” says Wright.

Candidates can come from other sectors, though – in particular customer-focused ones like telecoms or online retail, she adds. Most data analysts have backgrounds in computer science, statistics and maths and some are recruited directly from academic research positions.

“The programming languages SAS and R – plus some familiarity of Unix – are typical where knowledge of statistics is important. The databases MongoDB, NoSQL and even Marklogic are becoming popular,” says Natteri from Pinpoint Asia.

“But you can’t just have technical skills – one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to present huge reams of data in manageable and actionable pieces. Data analysts need to have strong business analysis skills and the desire to understand the banking industry,” adds Wright.

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