80% of Singapore bankers apply for office-based jobs as remote work loses lustre

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80% of Singapore bankers apply for office-based jobs as remote work loses lustre

When bankers in Singapore are looking for new jobs, the ability to work remotely over the long-term isn’t top of mind. While many people in the finance sector are not in a rush to return to the office at their current firms because Covid working restrictions are only gradually being rolled back, it’s a different story when it comes to job seeking.

“To me, WFH isn’t important at all for my next job. It’s a nice-to-have, but not a must-have. I find that it blurs the fine line between work and non-work hours. Last year, during the circuit breaker, I pulled way longer hours, often late into the night,” says a senior trader in Singapore. “I’m also more efficient in the office, where I have more screens at my desk, hear more market news on the dealing floor, and have more collaborative discussions,” he adds.

A Standard Chartered employee, who currently works remotely for about half the time, says she wouldn’t mind being based permanently in the office in her next role, if there was a “business need” for it. “The overall package, career opportunities, and other aspects of the employment contract are more important than remote work,” she says. A Singapore-based investment fund manager says he would prefer to apply for office-based jobs because WFH involves wasting too much time messaging and emailing colleagues who would otherwise be in the same room.

These sentiments are widespread among front-office job seekers, say recruiters About 80% of candidates for mid-to-senior roles in the banking sector are “very open” to applying for jobs that involve going back to the office, says Marie Tay, managing director of The Resolute Hunter. Only 20% are looking for remote work on a long-term basis, post-Covid, she adds. “In Singapore, most candidates in the banking sector treat remote work as a short-term emergency reaction to the pandemic,” she adds.

“Singapore isn’t like New York where some people have huge commutes from out of town, so remote working isn’t as appealing for bankers here,” says Gary Lai, managing director of Asia at Charterhouse Partnership. “Singapore is so small. A lot of us can get to work in 30 or 40 minutes or less, so commuting is no great hardship with our efficient transport system,” he adds.

Despite WFH becoming normalised over the last year, front-office job seekers still see it as a fringe benefit at best, or a drawback at worst. “Candidates in banking are more focused on the nature of the role – the career growth opportunities, team culture, and chemistry with the boss,” says Angela Kuek, director of Meyer Consulting Group. “In sales and relationship management, the ‘people factor’ and face-to-face interactions are still important. There’s only so much rapport you can build over video conferencing,” she says.

The ambivalence of front-office finance professionals to apply for remote jobs runs counter to the wider popularity of WFH in Singapore. Across all sectors, about 35% of vacancies last year involved work that could be done remotely, largely for professional, managerial, executive and technician (PMET) roles, according to the annual job vacancies report released by the Ministry of Manpower on Friday. Some financial institutions in Singapore have also cut back their office space in anticipation that fewer staff will be in the office full time even after the pandemic is over. DBS plans to give up about two and half floors in its Marina Bay Financial Centre headquarters, Bloomberg reported last week.

Recruiters say back and middle-office job seekers dominate the demand for long-term remote working jobs. “The front-office has a fast-paced and high-volume working environment. Banks require reactive and collaborative work among big teams, which is more efficient when employees are working from the office than at home,” says Tay.

Under new government rules introduced on April 5, up to 75% of those who can work from home have been allowed to come back to their workplace at any one time, up from the previous 50%.

Photo by Wengang Zhai on Unsplash

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