Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Global banks boost Singapore hiring to mitigate Hong Kong risk

Singapore’s skyline. A low-key effort appears to be under way to add more jobs in Singapore and reduce staffing in Hong Kong without angering Beijing
A low-key effort appears to be under way to add more jobs in Singapore, where investment firms have traditionally had a lower headcount © Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty

Global financial groups are ramping up hiring in Singapore and shunning Hong Kong as concerns over Beijing’s sweeping national security law in the Chinese territory spur the relocation of key roles.

Banks are looking to hire up to eight times as many employees in the rival regional financial hub, in what recruiters describe as an under-the-radar shift aimed at reducing staffing levels in Hong Kong while avoiding angering the Chinese government.

A December survey of LinkedIn data conducted by the Financial Times found eight times as many jobs available in Singapore at UBS and JPMorgan as in Hong Kong, while Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and Citibank were advertising more than double the number.

One investment bank executive said there was a low-key effort under way to add more jobs in Singapore, where investment firms have traditionally had a lower headcount. “It is prudent to spread the risk given the geopolitical situation,” the person said.

Citi said the two cities were important regional hubs with a mix of businesses run from both offices, and it “continue[s] to hire in key areas to support our clients in both markets”. The other banks declined to comment.

The hiring snapshot matches the broader strategies of global banks, which were growing in Singapore even before unrest hit Hong Kong in 2019. But the trend also fits with the broader reorientation towards Singapore described by recruiters. 

Hudson and Michael Page, which specialise in finance and technology recruitment, said 15 to 20 per cent of their business this year had been helping financial groups to move roles from Hong Kong to Singapore.

“We have placed a fair amount of private bankers in Singapore this year from Hong Kong, as well as lots of security and compliance roles,” said TY Shao, a Singapore-based manager for Hudson, which has offices across Asia.

Gavin Teo, a Singapore-based associate director with Michael Page, said: “Hong Kong-based firms [want] to diversify their risk and bring some of their operations to Singapore”, adding that “if there is headcount in Apac, they will put it in Singapore”.

Global investment bank job advertisements

Neither Singapore nor Hong Kong break down the number of jobs in the finance sector. None of the banks specified current office headcount in either city. Citi is an outlier, as it has for decades had a larger presence in Singapore where it has about 8,500 employees versus 4,500 in Hong Kong.

Ella Sherman, associate executive sales director at Knight Frank, who works in the residential property market dealing largely with expatriate clients, said she recently took on the chief executive of a Hong Kong finance company as a client. “He said China's handling of Hong Kong has resulted in their decision to relocate their headquarters here,” she said.

Many of her clients did not wish to speak publicly because many were making a “subtle shift”, Ms Sherman added. 

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