Aussie finance execs still love London, but they love Asia even more

eFC logo

Hiring activity in Australia gathering momentum

Australian finance professionals still enjoy strutting their stuff in their old favourite haunt, London, but younger Aussies increasingly want jobs in Asia, according to Russell Thomas, CEO and managing director of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia.

Thomas’ position as head of his country’s leading finance-sector association – Finsia boasts 16,000 members in Australia and New Zealand – gives him wide access to people across the Australian financial sector, from students to senior leaders.

He chatted to eFinancialCareers about the job-market trends he’s picked on recently as Australian finance becomes increasingly globalised and more international students look to grab graduate roles Down Under.

What roles are in demand in Australian finance right now?

People with a risk or compliance background are generally welcome in Australia. And there’s a healthy international exchange in these areas, including Aussies heading to Asia, the Middle East and London. Obviously people are needed to work on the global Basel III capital-adequacy changes that banks here are implementing. And importantly, there’s the Future of Financial Advice reform in Australia, which is dramatically changing how our financial planners deal with customers. Away from compliance, the banks are hiring marketing and social-media people – social media allows for unprecedented sophistication in the way products are designed and marketed to specific groups of consumers. At graduate level in Australia the banks are tilting their recruitment towards IT and engineering grads, in particular to fill IT-upgrading roles.

Australia hasn’t escaped the layoffs at global investment banks. What’s your advice to those who have recently lost their jobs?

Those out of work must remember that investment banking is a relationship-driven business, so it’s essential to keep on building these relationships, such as by being active in professional-membership bodies. Also keep your profile high by volunteering your services to boards of charities and small-cap companies – they can benefit from someone with a banking background.

What’s the outlook for investment banking this year?

It’s unclear whether in Australia or globally we will ever see a return to pre-financial crisis employment levels in investment banking. But in Australia, there is a critical need for new infrastructure, so hopefully the demand for debt and equity corporate finance will rise.

The Australian government has talked a lot about the importance of Asia to Australia's future. How is this impacting careers in finance?

Australia is now the number-one destination for Chinese foreign direct investment, so having the finance and language skills to deal with this investment inflow is becoming more important in Australia. And more Asian banks are opening here, which is creating employment opportunities, especially for Australians with high levels of Asian literacy. Whether Australia can become a substantial exporter of financial services to Asia is less clear. The record of Australian banks expanding in Asia is mixed. Australian bank ANZ and to a lesser extent its rival Westpac are active in the region, but their emphasis is, rightly, on employing local staff.

Will Asia be more important in the future?

Australia has the fourth largest funds management industry in the world, mainly because of our compulsory superannuation [retirement savings] system. One of the burning issues is where to invest this money. Our funds are beginning to invest more in Asia, but I think they will need to do so more in the future, so Asian-market skills will become more important. I’d like to see more international talent working in fund management here as a result.

Why would people from Asia or elsewhere want to work in Australia?

The lifestyle here is always a compelling reason of course, as is the stability of our financial sector, which has performed better than most other Western markets since the financial crisis. The growth of the education sector, with many universities having a high proportion of students from Asia, means we are now able to tap into more international talent at a graduate level.

Are Australian finance professionals becoming keener on moving to Asia?

Yes. In particular when I speak to younger Finsia members, they talk a lot about wanting to go to Singapore or Hong Kong. But it’s mainly just those two places unless they are, for example, Chinese students in Australia wanting to return home to mainland China.

But thousands of Australians still head to London to work every year. Will this flow stop anytime soon?

I don’t think so. London has particular strengths that aren’t offered on quite the same scale elsewhere, like currency and trade finance, although Singapore is catching up in these areas. And if you go to New York, the depth of the equity market is hard to beat.