HR Insider Nov 23 2011

Standard Chartered Expands While Others Contract

By julie steinberg

Other banks may have announced widespread layoffs, but not Standard Chartered.

Following its long tradition of investing in emerging markets, the British bank will have added a net 1,000 employees this year, bringing the total to more than 85,000 in more than 70 countries. It doesn't plan to retrench any time soon.

That's what you get from basing your businesses in China, Singapore and various countries in Africa and the Middle East. The bank plans to expand in 10 more places in China this year, bringing total number of offices to at least 81.

That's a marked contrast to most other banks. HSBC, for instance, said in August it would shed 30,000 employees and scale back operations in certain European countries. Most other European banks are doing the same, as are some of the top U.S. banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

To get insight into the anomaly of Standard Chartered, FINS caught up with Lee Slater, the Singapore-based group head of talent acquisition and international mobility.

Julie Steinberg: Standard Chartered is hiring while other global banks, such as Bank of America and HSBC, are scaling back. How have you achieved that?

Lee Slater: Our ability to sustain momentum during and following the financial crisis was not as a result of a change in direction; rather it's a result of a clear and consistent strategy to lead the way in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. They are markets where we have a long and rich history and we know them intimately.

What you're seeing across Europe -- some of those areas are not ones we've been historically involved in. They're not our core markets.

JS: Standard Chartered has traditionally been associated with many banking centers across Asia. What did you know about the region that others didn't?

LS: It's not about what we know, it's about our origins. The bank was formed in 1969 through a merger of two banks – The Standard Bank of British South Africa, founded in 1863, and the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, founded in 1853.

We have a clear and consistent strategy with a long held focus on Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

JS: What are your hiring plans for Asia?

LS: The majority of markets across our footprint quickly returned to a strong trajectory of economic growth following the economic crisis and our resourcing plans reflect that.

We are hiring right across Asia, particularly in markets such as China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan where our focus is on employing people with deep local knowledge.

JS: Are there certain Asian countries where you're expanding more so than the others?

LS: Markets such as China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan are a clear focus for the bank moving forward.

Though China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are very different markets, the links between these economies are developing rapidly and we are well positioned to capitalize on the opportunities that this presents for the individual markets, as well as for the region as a whole.

JS: Where else in emerging markets are you hiring? How many?

LS: In 2011, the bank intends to increase its net headcount by approximately 1,000 people, in markets spanning Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Within Africa, we will hire in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Ghana. In the Middle East, Dubai and Qatar.

Latin America is a small part of our business, employing fewer than 200 people.

JS: In August, the bank reported a 20% rise in six-month profit. What are some ways the bank has kept costs down and what contributes to profit?

LS: There is no one initiative that helped us to deliver a 20% rise in half-yearly profit. Instead we showed great cost discipline right across our business,. We will continue to exercise this discipline and ensure that costs are in line with income and profit growth.

At the same time, we are also focusing on new ways to build our business. We were the first bank to facilitate a domestic renmimbi (RMB) trade settlement and the first to offer retail RMB structured products. Last year we launched the first ever Indian Depository Receipts (IDR) in Mumbai.

JS: Staff costs have steadily increased. Do you expect that to continue or will the bank curb those expenses?

LS: Our success in recent years is as a result of a clear strategy and tight cost discipline. We are committed to striking the right balance between making the most of the growth opportunities our markets present, at the same time managing our cost base closely, prioritizing investment and delivering continuous improvements in productivity.

JS: Are you worried about increasing competition in Asia for the best talent?

LS: One of the best sources of talent is our own backyard. We seek to develop people's unique strengths, provide the right technical and professional training combined with critical experiences to enable them to take up roles across our network that are not only in line with their career aspirations, but will also drive our growth.

Where required we will also seek to employ outside talent to complement our growth plans.

JS: What type of positions and across what industry areas are you looking to add? Is there one area in particular, such as consumer banking, that will do the bulk of the hiring or is it evenly spread across?

LS: In our consumer bank we continue to hire relationship managers following double-digit growth in Asia, and right across the globe due to the rise of the emerging affluent in key markets.

In wholesale banking our client-facing teams are expanding to meet the demands of a growing client base, including local and global corporations.

JS: Do you recruit at both the undergraduate and graduate level?

LS: Standard Chartered seeks people from all backgrounds, with different levels of skills and experience. In particular our graduate programs are a key source of future leadership talent for the organization.

Our flagship graduate program, the International Graduate Programme, offers graduates the opportunity to fast track their career by providing the exposure and experience necessary to build a thriving career in banking.

Our two-year Management Associate Programme is aimed at recent MBAs wishing to develop a true understanding of their chosen field.

JS: What advice can you give Westerners who want to get a job with Standard Chartered in Asia?

LS: The rebalancing of the global economy toward Asia means most Asian-based companies are seeing increased interest from Westerners. Given our clear focus on emerging markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, we seek people who share our passion for and commitment to these markets.

We want candidates who have done their research on what we're doing and who want to sped some time with us across different markets. They need to understand the markets, the culture and have passion for emerging market banking. We look for people with local knowledge.

JS: Is it easy to transfer between Standard Chartered locations and is it encouraged? Is language and cultural training provided?

LS: We actively encourage people to pursue career opportunities across our network that are in line with their career aspirations, skills, experience and strengths. Opportunities range from short-term assignments aimed at offering critical experiences to permanent transfers.

Write to Julie Steinberg at

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