Four Asian cities are being counted among the world's top ten financial centers for the first time ever this year as the widespread expansion of banking services and commensurate hiring in the Asia-Pacific region has accelerated as wealth continues to grow in Asia.
In September, Citigroup announced its plans to hire 7,500 in China, doubling the number of its branches in Hong Kong to 50 in order to compete with Standard Chartered and HSBC, both of which announced plans this summer to hire hundreds across Asia. Jefferies & Co. kickstarted its Asia equities operations in Hong Kong, with plans to build a bigger team in the region, and UBS and Barclays are in competition for brokerage employees as they court Asian hedge funds. The Asian hedge fund industry is worth a whopping $74 billion, according to figures from Hedge Fund Research Inc., a Chicago-based data company.
Investments and finance job opportunities in the region have also risen exponentially in the last decade. China accounts for roughly 7.9% of the world's economic activity according to World Bank data, and its GDP grew by 11.9% in the first quarter this year as compared to last year. With the International Central Securities and Depository Clearstream's recent move to clear Renminbi-denominated securities, China is poised to internationalize its currency, further paving the way for it to become a global financial center.
Singapore and Malaysia are hotbeds of growth in consumer banking and wealth management, with the number of the 'growing affluent' in both countries soaring this year. According to data from Standard Chartered, which opened its preferred banking service in Singapore in August, an estimated 42 million people are now considered part of the growing affluent in Asia, with a further 18 million people falling in the 'affluent' category, having at least $100,000 to invest.
The overall message: If you want to be around the most significant economic growth, the most exciting wealth management opportunities, and an increasingly important financial region, Asia might be your best bet.
Asian cities took four out of the top ten spots in the most recent Global Financial Centers Index (GFCI), a biannual ranking of 75 world cities by London-based think-tank Z/Yen Group that came out this September.
We spoke with recruiters about these four cities -- Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Shanghai -- in addition to Kuala Lumpur, a growing Islamic banking hub, to find out what makes them the financial powerhouses of the future and what sectors and job types are in highest demand.
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Hong Kong (GFCI ranking: 3)
Hong Kong's ever-increasing cachet as a global financial hub alongside London and New York has made it a prime spot for job growth. Almost three quarters of the world's 100 largest banks have major offices there and more than a thousand companies trade on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the region's second largest after the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Wealth management and branch banking are some of its fast growing areas, say recruiters, with tightening regulation also increasing the focus on risk management.
"Hong Kong's banking and finance industry is again preparing itself for a war for talent," said Nigel Heap, Managing Director of Hays Asia Pacific, a recruiting firm focusing on the Asia Pacific region. "Over the last six months, the industry has recovered to peak levels, and we're now seeing the first signs of skills shortages."
Heap specifically noted a demand for professionals with experience in capital reporting and increasing number of roles with equities, with a shortage of product controllers and auditors.
"Overseas recruitment is a key strategy in helping employers across Asia overcome the war for talent," said Heap. "Changing IFRS regulations have also seen international candidates with the relevant experience become highly sought after."
Branch banking is another area that recruiters say is experiencing a surge in hiring activity.
"Clearly, the number of people who are meaningful consumers is increasing," said David Powe, managing director of Strategic Search Partners, a Singapore-based recruiting firm that has operations in Hong Kong. "More people are getting paid more and qualifying for credit."
Powe noted that the increase in asset prices and the expansion of services such as wealth management pointed to a culture of valuing ownership.
"People look at you very strangely if you don't own your own house," Powe said.
A parallel hiring current is the recent Renminbi clearing in August, with fixed income traders being highly sought after in Hong Kong.
"This is the first time this has happened outside China," said Heap.
Singapore (GFCI ranking: 4)
Prime finance and consumer banking have grown in the city-state as GDP exploded by almost 18% in the first half of 2010, and home ownership stood at nearly 89% by end of 2009, according to Singapore government statistics. Almost 800 companies are listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange.
Citigroup announced plans earlier this year to bulk up its futures unit in the country, competing with Bank of America and RBS, which have also been vying for a stake in Asian markets, hiring for everything from sales to accounting positions.
"The growing vacancy activity has already led to the re-emergence of skills shortages," said Heap, adding that such a shortage was "inevitable" as markets continued to strengthen.
A recent research report by Robert Half International, a finance and accounting search firm, showed 81% of its Singaporean respondents believed there to be a serious shortage of skills in risk, compliance and audit operations, among others. The survey also found that the skills shortage was in middle and senior management.
"With the robust job market, highly qualified and experienced professionals now have more options and can afford to take their time to choose," said Tim Hird, a managing director at Robert Half.
Tokyo (GFCI ranking: 5)
Where many of its Asian neighbors have bounced out of the crisis and ramped up growth and hiring activity, Japan is still in recovery mode.
"There is nothing endemic about Asia that makes it more financially stable," said Powe. "It's like, Asians are teenagers and the rest of us are going through menopause. It's cyclical. Right now, Asia has a much cleaner slate whereas Japan has more of the characteristics of the Old First World, with huge issues symptomatic of the West."
But Japan is still an Asian powerhouse. Firms like Mizuho Financial Group Inc., one of Japan's financial services giants, are still continuing to hire and expand as they attempt to stanch their losses connected to investments in U.S. subprime mortgages. Mizuho Corporate, its investment banking arm, announced plans last month to hire 150 bankers in Asia in risk management and marketing.
Trading operations in Japan are also expansive as the Tokyo Stock Exchange is the second largest in the world after the New York Stock Exchange with over 2,000 companies listed.
The crisis has also generally spurred hiring in selected pockets, say recruiters, particularly in regulatory reporting roles which are in higher demand because of the additional reporting required by financial services industry regulatory bodies. Market risk professionals are also in high demand as banks have tighter trading limits and need more expertise, said Heap.
Shanghai (GFCI ranking: 6)
As an emerging market, Shanghai joined the ranks of its more established counterparts in Asia only recently, making it into the top 10 in the GFCI for the first time. The Shanghai stock exchange lists almost 900 companies and is among the world's ten largest stock markets. Recruiters report that hiring is aggressive in Shanghai, with vacancies sprouting at HSBC, Citibank, Standard Chartered and Australian investment banking giant ANZ.
"In general, China is very strong in natural resources," said Lim Chye Lian, global chair of IIC partners, an international executive search firm.
Recruiters say branch banking and trade finance are the areas in which there is most hiring potential, with foreign talent being sought after to offset the relative inexperience of local talent in a developing market.
"Despite the growth here, [the financial sector] is not as mature as it is in the U.S. or in London," said Lim. "We're looking for people with that global perspective and some Wall Street experience."
Kuala Lumpur (GFCI ranking 48)
Despite the Malaysian capital's comparatively lackluster ranking, the rise of Islamic banking has created a growing need for talent in the city. In total, Islamic banking has grown by 15% in the last decade and IMF projections forecast a growth to $1 trillion by 2016. The Bursa Malaysia Berhad, Malaysia's stock exchange headquartered in KL, lists more than 800 companies
With the financial crisis bringing some less than ethical banking practices to light, financial services that adhere to Shariah law have become more attractive to vendors both Muslim and otherwise.
Write to Sindhu Sundar