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“It’s painful”: sluggish banks in Asia are losing top candidates to tech firms

Banks in Hong Kong and Singapore aren’t just missing out on hiring some of Asia’s top technology professionals because their workplaces aren’t hip enough and their jobs aren’t sufficiently exciting.

They’re also losing candidates to the likes of Google, Grab, Amazon and Alibaba because their recruitment processes – from application to job offer – are too drawn out.

Their tardiness first emerged as a problem last year, but banks’ hiring speeds have slowed down even more since then because of budget pressures and the involvement of additional managers in decision making.

“Although banks are doing a lot of tech hiring in Hong Kong, they don’t want to waste headcount budgets, which are under increased pressure,” says Warwick Pearmund, an associate director of emerging technologies at Pure Search. “So they’re trying to make sure they’re hiring exactly the right people. This often means involving regional heads in the sign-off process for jobs at VP level and above – sometimes even those below VP,” he adds.

The issue, says Pearmund, is that in their quest for the ‘perfect’ tech candidates, banks in Hong Kong sometimes end up not hiring anyone. “Senior people giving the final approval are often travelling or otherwise very busy. I’ve seen banks lose tech candidates this year because they can’t commit to hiring them quickly enough and people accept offers in other sectors,” he adds. “And it’s not just the big tech firms that are getting these candidates – it’s fintech startups and MNCs too. Cathay Pacific has a large data centre in Hong Kong, for example.”

Banks in Hong Kong are missing out on tech professionals mainly in job functions such as data architecture, cloud engineering, and digital transformation, which are suffering from skill shortages across all industries. “Cyber security might be the best example,” says Pearmund. “When banks are looking for senior cyber candidates, they’re dealing with people who are already well paid and have plenty of job options, so they have to move fast to hire them.”

US banks such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are particularly slow in their tech hiring, says a Singapore-based recruiter, who asked not to be named because he works with the firms. A Goldman technologist in Hong Kong told us last year that he received a job offer five months after sending in his application. “I did three coding tests on three separate days, each taking about 1.5 hours, and had five interview rounds – all very spaced out.”

Moreover, a Hong Kong tech recruiter says he recently worked for six months on one role, and there were “huge black holes” during the hiring process during which the bank gave no feedback. While these experiences appear to be at the extreme end, mid to senior-level tech recruitment at banks in Hong Kong typically lasts months, not weeks. “Three months isn’t unusual. It’s hard to work out an average time, but hiring speeds are definitely painful at the moment,” says Pearmund.

There are other reasons why banks aren’t as speedy as tech firms. For very senior jobs, a global bank in Asia may need to get the hire rubber stamped by headquarters in the US or Europe. This alone can often take two or three weeks.

John Mullally, director of Hong Kong financial services at recruitment firm Robert Walters, told us previously that banks in Asia are hiring more tech talent “because they know technologists can give them an advantage in the future – it’s like an arms race”. “But as a result, some of their job mandates are undefined. This means that sometimes when they reach the job-offer stage banks say ‘we know this person is brilliant, but we don’t know exactly where to put them within our organisational structure’ – and this slows down the hiring process.”

Not all tech candidates drop out when banks’ hiring processes drag on for months. The “strong brand names” of top-tier banks are enough to convince some candidates to be patient, says Vince Natteri, a former programmer who’s now a director at headhunters Pinpoint Asia. “Candidates even sometimes end up joining other companies in the interim and quit them to join the top IBs,” he adds.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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