UOB, Singapore’s smallest homegrown bank, has been taking on a surprising number of new staff over the past 12 months. Its headcount reached 26,651 last quarter, a rise of 1,363 (5%) year on year, according to its Q1 financial results. That’s 130 more than local market leader DBS hired over the same period.
But UOB’s recruitment wasn’t spread evenly across all functions – it was instead spearheaded by digital and technology jobs. The bank’s Q1 report partly attributed a 9% year-on-year rise in total costs (to S$1.07bn) on “IT-related expenses” as it “remained committed to investing in talent and technology”.
In October, for example, UOB’s new digital bank, TMRW, announced it was taking on 60 new people, predominately in specialist jobs such as user experience and user interface design, behavioural science, data analytics, and design thinking. Recent senior hires in tech include Kristina Curtis, the former chief digital officer of BT Financial Group, who moved to UOB in March as regional head of engagement for group digital. About a third (32%) of UOB’s current Singapore-based vacancies are for digital or tech roles.
What does it take to get a technology job at UOB? For starters, you don’t necessarily need to come from a rival bank. “I look at your skills more than what industry you’re from. While I might hire a business analyst from a bank, a data scientist could come from another sector,” Dr Dennis Khoo, head of digital banking at UOB, told us earlier this year. “The team uses tech such as chat bots and machine learning, but we don’t come at things from a tech perspective initially – we see the customer need, devise a business case, and then apply the relevant tech solutions.”
UOB hasn’t only been hiring for technology jobs in the 12 months to end-March. In its Group Wholesale Banking division – which encompasses services including capital markets and cash management – “investments in people” contributed to a 25% rise in year-on-year operating expenses in Q1. Similarly, in Group Retail, continued investments in “headcount” pushed up costs by 9%. There is no indication in UOB’s earnings report that its Markets unit enjoyed many of the fruits of its recent hiring spree.
Meanwhile, UOB appears to have paid more generous bonuses than it did in Q1 last year. “Performance-related staff costs”, were higher, according to the firm’s financial report, which didn’t provide further details. This may partly explain why staff costs per head at UOB – total employee expenditure (such as salaries and bonuses) divided by total headcount – rose by 3.3% year on year to reach S$24,765 for Q1.
If you want to be well compensated at a Singaporean bank, however, DBS is still a better bet. DBS’s average employee took home 28% more than UOB’s in the first quarter. DBS has proportionally more of its workforce based in highly-paid front-office jobs in investment banking, corporate banking and private banking.
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