Anxious expat bankers in Asia ditch plans to return home in wake of Brexit

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Anxious expat bankers in Asia ditch plans to return home in wake of Brexit

...not so fast

Expat bankers in Asia – British ones in particular – are delaying or scrapping plans to return home, following Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

The prospect of job cuts at banks in London and the rise of the Singapore dollar against the pound have made the UK a much less unattractive destination for expats who had been thinking about leaving Asia, says James Purdie, managing director for Southeast Asia at search firm ConnectedGroup in Singapore.

“I’ve spoken with a number of senior expat finance professionals both pre and post Brexit. Those who were previously looking to return to Europe, especially the UK, now overwhelmingly say they’re much better off weathering the Brexit storm in Asia,” adds Purdie.

“Expats like me who’ve always had plans to go home ‘when the kids are older’ are now by and large looking at staying longer in Asia before even considering a move,” says a Hong Kong-based banking professional.

He adds: “Brexit will probably give Frankfurt a push in the race to be Europe’s financial hub, and anything that lessens the prestige of London banks will lessen the attractiveness of London as a base. Why put up with London’s miserable weather, if it doesn't boost your CV and bank balance?”

Another Hong Kong expat says Brexit has “definitely had a noticeable impact on expat sentiment”. “Most people don’t want to return to the UK, and who can blame them? It’s a shambles over there.”

Departure timetables for expatriate bankers and their families are being substantially pushed back because of Brexit.

“Most expats I speak to are now looking at a three to five-year time frame, with very few wanting to return in the coming 12 to 24 months,” says Nick Wells, managing director at headhunters Webber Chase in Singapore.

Recruiters say most current expats should be able to remain in Asia for five years or more, despite efforts by banks in Singapore and Hong Kong to hire more locals.

“If you’re already in the region and have Asian experience, you have a very strong advantage over candidates relocating from Europe or the US,” says Purdie from ConnectedGroup. “Post-Brexit, expats in Asia appear to be in the right place at the right time.”

An expat manager at a global bank in Singapore says foreign finance professionals in the city state are generally focused on job security and are in no mood to put that at risk by moving countries.

“And that means job security in Singapore as much as anywhere,” he adds. “The full fallout from Brexit isn’t really known yet, but foreign banks here have already been slowing down hiring this year.”

Still, expats in Asia are generally in a “privileged” position, says Richard Aldridge, a director at recruitment company Black Swan Group in Singapore. “We can sit and view Brexit unfold from afar and then potentially choose the right moment to return.”

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