Finance-sector job seekers in Singapore are heading into the final months of the year in an upbeat mood and their confidence in the labour market is making them pushier with their pay demands.
In a survey of financial professionals released today by recruiters Astbury Marsden, more than half (54.9%) of respondents said they were optimistic about the Singapore job market in Q4, a substantial rise of 16 points over the same quarter last year (and three points higher than in Q3).
The statistics support anecdotal evidence from recruiters that candidates, confident of their salary-negotiation power and wary of potentially flat 2014 bonuses, are making more aggressive pay demands than they were last year.
“Compared with 18 months ago the outlook in the banking sector is relatively optimistic, especially in growth areas like internal audit, operational risk, anti-money laundering and compliance,” says Matthew Ng, manager, banking and financial services at recruiters Ambition in Singapore. “In this talent-short market, candidates who have experience in these functions are now typically receiving more than one job offer.”
But as global banks continue to offshore back-office roles away from Singapore and reduce recruitment in Q4 ahead of bonus season, where exactly is this candidate confidence coming from?
“The positive sentiment could be attributed to the fact that a number of our candidates are part way through hiring processes and are expecting to close off job offers during Q4,” says Mark O’Reilly, managing director of Asia Pacific at Astbury Marsden. The recent announcement of a large Malaysian bank merger – RHB Capital, CIMB Group and MBSB are joining forces in 2015 to create Southeast Asia’s fourth largest bank – has also contributed to the feel-good factor, he adds.
“The merger will probably have a positive impact on the Singapore recruitment market,” Han Lee, director of search firm Lico Resources in Singapore, told us earlier this month. “Both CIMB and RHB already have operations here, while the merged bank, with more significant resources, will try to add more front-office staff here, using Singapore as a base as they push for regional growth.”
Moreover, several other banks – from big players (HSBC) to less obvious ones (Mizuho, Credit Agricole) were talking up their hiring in Q3 and helping to fuel job-seeker expectations for the current quarter.
The Astbury Marsden survey shows that the Singapore job market was indeed healthy in Q3, with 44% of financial institutions reporting an increase in recruitment over the previous quarter (28% said their hiring decreased and the same percentage noticed no change). Overall growth in the finance and insurance sectors accelerated in Q3 to 11.6%, up from 4.6% in the previous quarter on a seasonally-adjusted annualised basis, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry.
“I am not surprised that job seekers’ confidence is high given that Singapore has recently been named among Asia’s top-10 cities for economies that best fuel job and income growth – the only developed economy to be ranked in the top 10 – by The Milken Institute,” adds O’ Reilly.
Finance sector employers in Singapore are less upbeat. Only 30.5% of them are optimistic about the Q4 job market, down from 52.7% in Q3, according to the Astbury Marsden survey. The recruitment firm attributes this to the standard seasonal slump in hiring as banks use Q4 to finalise budgets for next year.
More worryingly, however, Q4 employer-optimism levels are about 5 percentage points lower than the same quarter in 2013, suggesting that this year’s recruitment recovery may now be fizzling out. A year-on-year comparison for Q3 still puts 2014 well ahead.
The real test of whether soaring candidate confidence matches the realities of the job market will come early next year when banks embark on their post-bonus hiring. “Beyond compliance and other obvious sectors, the truth is we don’t know yet how good early 2015 is going to be – all this optimism v pessimism stuff is all just speculation right now,” says a Singapore recruiter who asked not to be named.