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The banking job market in Asia should be busier than at any point during the year. The post-Chinese New Year period is when banks really ramp up recruitment, but although there are more job opportunities than earlier in 2015, it is still a long way behind last year.

[efc_twitter text="Cautious employers and employees are conspiring to reduce recruitment rates in March"], but  there is still hope that more vacancies will open up next month.

“The majority of banks have reported lower growth rates in 2014 and as a result we’re now seeing a slowdown in hiring in Asia,” says Lim Chai Leng, associate director, banking and financial services, at recruitment firm Randstad. “Banks are keeping a watch on market volatility and regulatory requirements when planning their headcounts. They are being more cautious about hiring and concentrating on promoting internally in a bid to retain top performers.”

Hiring levels in some sectors have been hit worse than others. “In front-office IBD and capital markets, where banks are generally overstaffed in Hong Kong and Singapore, recruitment is down almost 50% on 12 months ago,” says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore. “The decrease is much less in retail, corporate and private banking, where there’s immediate client need rather than an expectation of future deal volumes.”

Even the booming middle office is not exempt from the slowdown. “Given the huge growth in recent years in areas such as risk and compliance, banks are now focusing on integrating the teams they have in place and only looking to the external market for exceptional hires,” says Duncan McKenzie, a senior consultant at recruiters Astbury Marsden in Singapore.

Falling recruitment in Hong Kong and Singapore this month can’t just be blamed on cautious employers. Financial professionals are themselves less inclined to move jobs than they were last year and this means fewer “replacement” vacancies opening up when staff leave. “There’s less churn in the job market right now,” says Nick Fenn, regional manager of recruitment firm Reed in Hong Kong.

A string of redundancy announcements at banks in Asia this quarter – most notably from Standard Chartered, RBS and CIMB – has made candidates more worried about ending up “last in first out” if they join a new firm. Employees of RBS itself – both traders considering whether to remain in the downsized Singaporean business and corporate bankers looking to leave before likely layoffs – are bucking this trend and are actively looking for new work.

“In general, concerns about slowing economic growth and recent news of banks downsizing in Asia have created a focus on job security, with people looking to stay put in roles where they are comfortable rather than moving for increased pay or responsibility,” says McKenzie.

How long will this stuttering job market last? “2015 may not match 2014 overall, but I still expect things to get a bit better,” says Charania from Nastrac. “Because banks are more cautious with their headcounts, recruitment has been delayed this year. So rather than it picking up in February/March as normal, I hope it will increase next month and next quarter, when more banks sort out their budgets.”

McKenzie from Astbury Marsden adds: “We’re speaking to a number of banks, particularly in compliance and risk, who are discussing plans to create additional headcount, but a lot of these jobs are still waiting for sign-off internally and haven’t been advertised externally.”

The Chinese New Year holidays this year fell some three weeks later than in 2014, which has also helped to delay hiring, points out Richard Aldridge, a director at recruiters Black Swan Group in Singapore. “We generally see resignations happening four to six weeks after the interview processes start, so these should start to escalate in the coming weeks, creating some churn in the job market.”

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