Staff in Asia switch jobs far too often, says M&G boss

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Andrew Hendry

Finance workers in Singapore change jobs every two years, according to Andrew Hendry, Asia managing director of M&G Investments, a UK fund manager that looks after $351.5bn in assets and is owned by Prudential Group.

India-born Hendry, who has an MBA from INSEAD and graduated from the University of St. Andrews in the UK, is no job hopper himself – he spent 10 years at his previous employer, Capital International, the investment management firm. Having also worked in Los Angeles and Geneva, Hendry joined M&G in April 2012 to head up the firm’s new office in Singapore.

Since then he’s been busy building the business. Already this year Marcel Bruijckere has joined from LGT Capital Management as the director of institutional business for Asia, while Raphael Jaggy, who was with Capital Group companies, is now M&G’s business manager for Asia.

Hendry, whose team is now 10 strong, said he hadn’t set a recruitment target for this year but was planning to hire for two roles, in compliance and client relationships respectively. He talked to eFinancialCareers about the importance of Asian languages, the future of private banking, and why role-playing helps him choose the best candidates.

You also did a stint in Singapore in 2002. How does the job market compare with now?

What hasn’t changed is the culture of moving jobs every two years; there’s still short-term job hopping here across all areas of financial services and across the whole spectrum of seniority. Senior people tend to leave because of lack of revenue in their team, or instability and change in the firm. Or they are exhausted by a lack of understanding of the Asian market by senior management at their head office overseas. Junior and mid-level people usually move for different reasons, mainly money and job titles. You can never be complacent; I don’t want to deal with 24-month turnover. But we are lucky at M&G that our average tenure of investment staff is nine years, which is very high in financial services

What skills do you need to succeed in Singapore?

Language skills are getting more important as more regional and international teams are based here. For example, we’ve seen Singapore become a centre for Indonesian high-net-worth investors, so Bahasa Indonesia is becoming a more important language. But it’s no longer true that Singapore just services Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, leaving the mainland Chinese market to Hong Kong. There are a growing number of wealthy Chinese nationals in Singapore and more Chinese bankers are based here too.

Is this making it harder for Western finance professionals to move to Singapore?

Yes, but on the flip side, opportunities are rare in Europe, so there’s a lot of interest from European candidates in particular. One of the changes I’ve seen in Singapore is that 10 years ago the Western expat community was dominated by British, Americans and Australians. Now it’s more diverse, there are more Continental Europeans here as well. Using private banking as an example, there will always be a small amount of business in Singapore which is generated from European clients, so there will always be some job opportunities a result.

What do you think about the talent pool in Singapore?

It’s very good, for both locals and expats. Increasingly, for many expats, wherever they come from originally, Singapore is now where they call home, so this is a secure pool of people. We are a British firm in Singapore but only have one British employee, our office is diverse: we have people from China, the Netherlands, India and Switzerland as well. Singapore is diverse and so are our clients, so that’s the way we like to build our team.

How do you choose your candidates?

It’s hard to choose someone just via a job interview. When we’re hiring relationship managers, for example, we use role-plays to get them to tell stories about their strategies and business. Telling the investment story is an important part of the job. The audience would be three of us playing the role of three portfolio managers and trying to represent the different people the candidate would come across. I also like asking open-ended questions such as “what would you do for an off-site?”. I’m not looking for one particular answer, I’m wanting to test their ability to think and interpret things on the spot.

Many of M&G’s clients are private banks. How has that industry changed in Asia?

It’s much more competitive now compared with when I covered private banks in 2002. Back then, many wealthy people were discovering private banking for the first time, but now these same people may be looked after by up to six different banks each. Banks have to put more effort into how they win business. Ten years ago the performance-objectives culture didn’t exist so much within Swiss-model private banks. These days it’s much more about meeting all sorts of targets, like net new assets profitability and products sold. There’s more pressure on private bankers to perform within a smaller and smaller time scale.

Is the future still bright for private banks in Asia?

Yes, while the market is more challenging than before, there’s still a lot of wealth being generated here compared with Europe. If you’re a private banker, it’s still a relatively straight-forward decision to be in Singapore.