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More financial firms building up presence in S'pore

Over the last couple of weeks, at least two foreign financial institutions have started or expanded operations in Singapore. And even though the Singapore banking sector has the thinnest lending margins in Southeast Asia, analysts said it pays to have a presence in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Malaysia's fourth largest bank, RHB, recently announced plans to ramp up hiring in Singapore, as did China's second biggest brokerage Haitong Securities -- which opened an office here last week.

But amid a tight labour market, recruitment experts said these firms may have difficulty filling jobs.

Singapore's unemployment rate stands at 1.8 per cent -- and that's technically regarded as zero unemployment by economists.

Chris Mead, regional director of Singapore & Malaysia at Hays, said: "Particularly when you're starting a new venture in Singapore, it's difficult to find talent. Having said this, we are in 2014 -- the year of the horse -- we're coming into bonus season now, and that means there will be more candidates available on the marketplace in the next few months."

Recruitment firms Hays said one factor that has driven demand for banking professionals is tighter regulatory requirements imposed on banks in 2013.

That has driven up wages for risk and compliance officers in particular -- these professionals can expect a salary increase of about six per cent this year, compared to the national average of four per cent.

If they move between banks, a salary increase of 20 to 30 per cent is in order.

However, despite challenges surrounding rising labour costs and increasing competition in a mature banking sector, analysts said financial institutions cannot afford to ignore Singapore.

Karen Loon, the Singapore banking leader at PwC, said: "The big four hubs globally are New York, London, Singapore and Hong Kong. So for many of these players, if you want to be a big player regionally or globally, it's important to have a hub in Singapore.

"One of the advantages of having a presence in Singapore is access to different types of clients, whether it's wealth management clients, whether it's the fund space -- private equity -- because there's obviously a lot of distribution through here."

Apart from dangling pay increases, players like RHB Bank see another way out of the labour crunch.

It noted that cooling measures imposed on the property sector have freed up relationship managers in some banks, and some of them could join other banks in divisions like corporate banking.

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