Morale in many back-office teams in Singapore is plummeting as banks like Barclays, Credit Suisse and Standard Chartered continue to offshore jobs to India, Malaysia and other low-cost markets.
And an increasing number of operations staff in the Republic are looking for new, more secure jobs within the banking sector.
“I’m helping with a big offshoring project that will decide which jobs will leave Singapore. In an average team of, say, 10 operations people, perhaps about eight will be affected,” says an investment banking operations manager at a global firm.
“Some people have been told whether they’re being cut and some haven’t. It will become more transparent soon, but obviously morale has been badly affected,” he adds. “I’m seeing my colleagues leave on a regular basis and sometimes I do wonder if I’ll be next.”
The operations manager says that in Singapore back-office jobs in wealth management are less likely to be offshored than those in investment banking.
“Roles that required staff to engage with the local regulator are also quite secure. But aside from these exceptions, no operations job is that safe. European banks are more advanced with their offshoring, but all global banks are looking at it and even the local firms will eventually.”
Kyle Blockley, managing partner at recruitment company KS International, says morale in back-office teams in Singapore is “dreadful”. “The international banks have squeezed the last few pennies out of their operations and staff are constantly waiting for that dreaded phone call alerting them of pending redundancy.”
On-the-spot dismissals are uncommon, however. Banks usually give victims of offshoring at least three months’ notice.
“But then comes a period of uncertainly,” says Blockley. “Can you move to a different department or location within the bank? If not, it becomes a race to find a job at a new firm – and you’re competing not only against the person sitting next to you but against candidates from other banks that are also offshoring.”
Banks in Singapore typically try to retain their top performing operations employees to help with the offshoring process and ensure business continuity, says Blockley. “But if these people do finally get made redundant, they may be disadvantaged as many of the jobs elsewhere would have already gone. The smart ones start looking before they even get their notice.”
It is possible to change careers if you’re working in operations, although it’s much easier to do this within your current bank.
“I’m seeing back-office staff, particularly at associate and AVP level, being offered roles within KYC and client due diligence teams as they have a very transferable skill set,” says an HR professional at a global bank in Singapore. “Product controllers are also seeing some opportunities in areas such as internal audit and risk.”
“But it’s not like there are roles for all the people affected by offshoring, which is the main reason that back office-staff in Singapore are feeling the pinch,” adds the HR professional.
The operations manager says many of his colleagues are trying to break into middle-office governance jobs.
“The bank is making a lot of effort to find jobs for those whose roles are being offshored. So for some people offshoring could be a huge opportunity to get a better position,” he says. “Ultimately, I’m aiming to do a stint in London with my bank, but because of Brexit it isn’t the right time to mention this.”
Another operations staffer we spoke to in Singapore says she wants to move departments, ideally to trading but more realistically to her firm’s treasury team.
And it’s not just the fear of redundancy that’s making her feel frustrated with offshoring.
“Offshoring doesn’t always mean saving costs,” she says. “The quality of the work you get back from overseas often isn’t very good, and that affects the Singaporean team in terms of meeting our service-level agreements.”