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Singapore and Hong Kong face flood of job applications from UK bankers spooked by Brexit

Recruiters in Hong Kong and Singapore have spotted a surge in enquires from London-based banking professionals wanting to relocate to Asia in the final run-up to the UK leaving the European Union. But these candidates face a big problem: banks don’t plan to shift jobs to Asia because of Brexit.

“As uncertainty over Brexit has grown during the last few weeks, we’ve seen an uptick from young Brits – mainly single people with no property or kids, who can relocate easily – wanting jobs in HK,” says John Mullally, director of Hong Kong financial services at recruiters Robert Walters. “But the largest increase has come from Asians in London who are concerned about how Brexit could affect London as a finance centre and a place to build their careers. They think job-market sentiment is better back home.”

Adam Davies, an associate director at recruiters iKas International in Singapore, says he’s now receiving “a lot more” job applications from the UK, especially from EU nationals “who want a more stable career somewhere else, without the worry of Brexit”. The UK is set to leave the EU in March next year.

The supply of banking jobs in Hong Kong and Singapore, however, isn’t matching the interest in Asia from UK-based candidates, despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan saying last month that a ‘bad’ or ‘no-deal’ Brexit will cause jobs to flow to both Asian cities, not to European capitals. Banking recruiters say Khan is wrong, whatever happens when the UK Parliament debates the Brexit deal.

Global banks simply aren’t shifting front-office IBD or trading jobs from London to Hong Kong or Singapore because of Brexit, says an in-house recruiter at a US firm in Hong Kong. “For front-office jobs focused on European clients and deals, you either keep them in London or move them to the likes of Frankfurt and Paris,” adds Mullally. “Hong Kong is just as out of the EU as London will be, and the time zone makes far less sense for trading.”

If banks shift back and middle-office jobs away from London, it’s unlikely that Singapore and Hong Kong will be beneficiaries. Banks such as Barclays and Credit Suisse have been offshoring operations jobs out of Singapore for the past five years, and these roles don’t look set to return. “If there’s movement from London because of Brexit, it will be to lower-cost places like Poland, not Singapore,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner of recruiters KS International. “The cost of basing people in Singapore or HK is too much, especially if banks need to pay extra to cover overnight work during the European time zone.”

The fact that Brexit isn’t opening up additional jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong, isn’t the only challenge facing finance professionals now wanting to escape Britain for Asia. Expats are generally finding it harder to land work in Singapore because of a recent tightening up of the country's Employment Pass rules. “All banks look to hire local talent first and foremost,” says Blockley.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the private banking sector is booming, but parachuting in people from London (unless they’re Asian) isn’t the answer to the industry’s chronic talent shortages. Wealth managers in Hong Kong – from UBS to UBP – are increasingly competing to manage the offshore assets of rich Chinese clients, so they want to hire relationship managers who speak Mandarin.

There is one broad job function within Asian banking which may welcome Londoners who have the Brexit jitters: technology. “But this demand for foreign talent is due to an existing local need for specialist skills in particular areas – virtual banking in Hong Kong, for example – rather than because Brexit is causing tech jobs to be relocated,” says Nick Lambe, a partner at Space Executive.

A tight labour market in tech in Singapore also means that many overseas candidates at VP level and above – particularly those in sought-after fields such as cyber security, cloud and DevOps engineering – are bucking the wider trend and still being granted working visas, says Davies from iKas.

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Image credit: photoschmidt, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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