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Is Singapore more attractive to London bankers than Hong Kong?

A new survey puts Singapore ahead of Hong Kong as the preferred place to work for UK bankers.

Singapore came top out of five financial centres listed as options on the survey by recruitment firm Astbury Marsden. It was chosen by 27 per cent of the 300 UK banking-sector professionals surveyed. London clocked up 22 per cent of the votes and Hong Kong 20 per cent. New York and Dubai trailed further behind.

Although this sample group is fairly small, there is other anecdotal evidence to suggest that Singapore's status as a talent magnet is increasing. Here are six reasons why British bankers are seeking jobs in the city state.

1) Lifestyle

The demographics of the people surveyed could partly explain Singapore's popularity, says Mark O'Reilly, managing Director, Asia Pacific, Astbury Marsden. "They are predominately mid to senior-level professionals, many of whom might have young families. While Hong Kong offers excellent career opportunities for senior banking staff, Singapore residents benefit from better value housing as well as access to excellent career progression opportunities."

2) Profile

There has been more positive coverage of the Singaporean market in the UK financial press in recent months, says O'Reilly. "Singapore didn't loom as large on the radar three years ago but now there is an increasing number of people interested in Singapore specifically. And overall enquiries to relocate to Asia are continuing to surge."

3) Ease

Most western candidates think Singapore is the easiest Asian city for starting a new job, says a head of resourcing at a major European bank in Singapore, who asked to remain anonymous. In Hong Kong, an increased need for bankers to speak Mandarin and understand the mainland market means some people struggle to transfer their skills from London. "Let's face it, Singapore is still 'Asia lite'. In most roles, English is the only language you need," he adds.

4) Career

Such is the career pull of Singapore that most candidates aren't attracted there by expat luxuries such as accommodation, cars and school fees. "The level of supply of staff wanting to come to Singapore and the depth of the local talent pool means that expensive relocation packages are no longer seen as key," says O'Reilly.

Budding expats are demanding relatively modest base pay rises of 10 to 15 per cent when moving to Singapore. "With Asian markets taking off, people are coming to the region for career development - it's not just about the money."

5) Push

Push factors out of London help to explain some of the enthusiasm for Singapore. "Now that bonuses in the UK have largely been announced, and are generally disappointing, we are seeing more movement. Bonuses are becoming a reason not just for people to change companies, but to change countries too. There's been an influx of CVs in recent weeks," says O'Reilly.

A headhunter from another firm, who asked not to be named, adds: "We're seeing more candidates from London, especially from EU banks. Why stick around at RBS in London, where your cash bonus is limited to 2,000, when you could join a different bank in Asia?"

6) Need

Candidates are cottoning onto the fact that after a lull during the GFC, banks in Singapore are now doing more overseas recruitment. Although they prefer to hire people with local experience, this pool gets exhausted quickly for many roles, says the anonymous headhunter. Standard Chartered, he adds, recruits globally at most levels from the outset. According to new data from recruitment firm Hays, 47.3 per cent of its financial services placements in Singapore are overseas-based candidates.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager
  • St
    3 February 2013

    Agree with all of the above. Singapore is such a nice place to live as in green space etc etc, but it is boring. There isn't much going on socially, I feel. But because HK china has the language requirement of English, Mandarin and Cantonese, I feel that with time, say 5-10 years HK will go down and Singapore will rise.
    Singapore should encourage more creativity, art, and social happenings that are not synchronised.

  • Is
    7 July 2011

    For foreigners looking to move to Asia, I think in the long run, HK will lose out compared to Singapore because of the growing local language barrier and more so, lately one is required to speak 3 languages (Cantonese, Mandarin and English) to be able to land a serious job. Let's face the fact, how many int'l financial centers require such near impossible feat?

  • al
    14 June 2011

    Hong Kong hands down, unless you have a family of 5...
    The air pollution is a myth basically, it was bad 4 years ago, no longer a problem in HK and with guandong factories slowing down from now on....

    There is so much to do in HK, you can even hike. Singapore may have the worst weather on earth...... sauna every single day of the year.

  • Ni
    11 March 2011

    I can see how Sing must feel like paradise compared to the UK or Europe but struggling to see the positives since my move from HK.

    1. Plenty of work opps, but salaries lower (than HK), taxes higher. Most senior/decision making roles still in HK/JP.

    2. Kids don't play outside every day. Most play areas unsheltered so in blazing sun or wet at least 50% of the time. Reduced (but not absent) air pollution compared to HK was main reason for our move.

    3. Constant sun/heat/humidity no longer a novelty. Any outdoor activity needs to finish by 11am or start after 7pm.

    4. Accom quality superior to HK but rents high. We pay similar rent to HK - can't afford a landed property with reasonable commute to work.

    5. Transport. Still debating whether to cough up the $1500/mth for the privilege of owning/leasing a car or stick with public transport which is severely overcrowded during peak hrs.

    6. Commute to work much longer than in HK - despite this being a smaller place!

    7. The "cannot" do attitude. People are lovely, friendly & generally kind but things take a long time to happen. There is a passiveness about the place.

    8. The place is dull and lacks sophisticatio

  • An
    11 March 2011

    Having lived in both cities (currently based in Hong Kong). I would ideally like to blend the two - Singapore for it's relaxed and healthy lifestyle, it's (relatively to Hong Kong) inexpensive property - and Hong Kong for it's career opportunities.

    Sadly Singapore is still a relative financial backwater and lacks the depth of senior banking jobs required by the ambitious. Though if the right opportunity came up i'd be back there in a flash.

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