Why Grab and Singtel could soon be raiding DBS and Citi for their new staff

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Homegrown tech firms Grab, Singtel and Razer have already been raiding Singapore’s banking sector for staff over the past year – and their recruitment could soon be ramped up further still. 

The three companies have stated that they are considering the feasibility of applying for one of the Singapore Monetary Authority’s (MAS) new digital banking licences.

MAS will start taking applications for a maximum of five online-only banks next month, in one of the largest liberalisations of the local finance industry in recent years. Applicant firms could start hiring even before receiving their licences, if Hong Kong’s recent experience of virtual banking is anything to go by.

Standard Chartered set up a stand-alone unit for its Hong Kong virtual bank in August last year, soon after the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced plans to grant virtual banking licences for the first time. Stan Chart then built out its team with technology, business and governance professionals before it received the regulatory green light in March.

No matter the timing, however, companies than launch virtual banks in Singapore won’t be able to rely on internal transferees for their headcount needs. This is particularly the case when it comes to technology jobs. “They will need to bring in digital technology specialists to really become key players in the market,” says Adam Davies, lead IT recruiter at iKas International in Singapore. “This will inevitably lead to some poaching of top digital talent from banks that already have mature digital banking teams,” he adds.

Citi, Stan Chart, DBS, OCBC and UOB – which all have large tech workforces in Singapore – will be prime headhunting grounds for expansionist virtual banks, say recruiters. Tech firms, which are expected to snap up most of Singapore’s virtual banking licences, already have a history of hiring from these five banks as they build payments, lending and other finance products in Singapore. GrabPay, for example, is headed up by Gary Wong, who joined in 2018 from OCBC.

What kind of tech professionals will Singapore’s virtual banks want to hire? Software and API-integration engineers will be required for the “core systems build”, while infrastructure cloud and DevOps engineers will be sought after, because virtual banks will be set up on a private or public cloud (e.g. AWS or MS Azure), says Davies.

Virtual banks in Singapore will also be hiring data science and AI engineers, UX and UI professionals, and digital product owners who have “tech backgrounds and strong agile scrum skills”, he adds. Meanwhile, IT security engineers and architects will play a “critical role” in setting up and running virtual banks.

But why would you leave a stable job at Citi or DBS to join a startup virtual bank? The challenge of building something from the ground up using the latest tech and methodologies will be a big drawcard, says Davies. “There’s less bureaucracy compared to a large bank – things should get done faster and more efficiently,” he says, adding that some firms may offer staff equity stakes in the new businesses as a further incentive.

Hong Kong’s eight virtual banks – which include consortiums led by Bank of China and Ant Financial Services – have experienced high levels of interest from job seekers so far, say recruiters in that city. “Instead of working for a slow-moving retail bank, you’ll going into a role which is being built from scratch under an exciting new regime,” says Hong Kong-based Warwick Pearmund, associate director of emerging technologies at Pure Search.

Image credit: charles taylor, Getty

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