Asia still rosy for tech talent in finance, hiring experts say
The chill of this year’s employment market and recent waves of major tech layoffs have caught many by surprise, particularly given their stark contrast to the red-hot hiring activity of last year.
While most companies and employees are bunkering down to tide over uncertain times, signs are emerging that a river of tech jobs in finance could soon spring forth.
“Clients are telling us that in 2023 and 2024, they might look at hiring more,” says Vince Natteri, managing director of recruitment at Pinpoint Asia, the go-to IT search firm for top investment banks, financial institutions, and global banks. “We're optimistic that demand for candidates isn’t going to be suppressed for too long.”
Indeed, pockets of opportunity are already shining in Singapore and Hong Kong – Asia’s largest and busiest finance hubs – where Pinpoint operates. Natteri, who is based in Singapore, and its director Danny Kwan, who is based in Hong Kong, say that demand for jobs in both these cities is likely to remain “rock solid”, given that much of Asia’s private wealth is concentrated in these two hubs.
Singapore remains the gateway to burgeoning Southeast Asia, one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and a safe place where organisations can de-risk, says Natteri. As for Hong Kong, “the Greater Bay Area is never going to go away, as China presents a massive opportunity”.
Amid recent global developments for the Chinese economy, the mainland is likely to see Hong Kong as its doors to international markets.
That will be the city’s position, at least for the next 10 or 20 years, Kwan predicts, pointing to how demand for talent is soaring back as China reopens its doors and looks set to maintain stability in Hong Kong as a gateway for capital inflows to the nation.
“People want to go back to business-as-usual. We still see buy-side firms and hedge funds hiring. Interestingly, mid-sized, tier 2 and tier 3 banks, local banks, wealth management companies and insurance companies see the opportunity and are also doing much more hiring since China reopened,” he says. “So our outlook for both cities is very rosy.”
Prospects in Asia
What sorts of roles can keen jobseekers still land in Asia amid a dampened economic climate? In Singapore, big players are hiring mostly to replace turnover, but this does not mean the situation is dire, says Natteri, as Pinpoint has made placements for large organisations, albeit at lower levels than 2022.
Most companies are being “very cautiously optimistic”, he says, adding that smaller firms and hedge funds are still actively hiring, and candidates stand a good chance as long as they can ace their interviews.
In Hong Kong, demand for technology talent – core technologists with skills in cloud engineering, DevOps, Java, C++ and cybersecurity – remains strong as the city’s financial sector works to continuously transform its digital capabilities. “Every bank, insurer and enterprise sees the technology piece as exceptionally important to what they're doing,” says Kwan.
Unique to star candidates is the ability to adapt to risk, which will be a key theme moving forward. Examples include the capacity to handle different types of architecture requirements, such as governance architecture, that will guide the changes that are unfolding in Asia, or being able to grasp security risks and governance rules when executing tasks such as data analysis. This, Kwan says, has become “one of the core requirements for long positions”.
Despite record tech salary hikes of up to 60% in 2022, most jobseekers this year have scaled expectations back to realistic levels, both hiring experts add.
Instead, candidates’ focus has shifted away from remuneration to future prospects. “Many are asking about a firm’s culture and wellbeing, who they’re going to be working with, how the company has handled recent changes, and how much resources and technology are being put into a project,” says Kwan. “Candidates are being very mindful of the future outlook.”
Strategies for new opportunities
For those affected by layoffs or simply looking for a new role, Natteri and Kwan recommend considering a role with greater impact at a smaller organisation, or taking time to strategise a career pivot.
Given market realities, it may be challenging for a candidate previously at a large organisation to secure a position at a similarly-sized firm, so Natteri advises job seekers to consider helping a smaller organisation grow.
Senior managers at large banks, for example, will find the governance, control, and architecture mindset gained from working in a large organisation particularly valuable to smaller financial institutions. There, they can take on senior leadership roles, such as department head, CIO, or CTO.
For junior to mid-level staff, such as those at the associate vice president level, moving from an investment or global bank to a local financial institution promises greater agency over processes. Without the need to defer to overseas headquarters for system changes or solutions to issues, Pinpoint’s candidates have found direct access to core tech systems and greater technology decision-making power attractive in their new roles.
The firm has seen talent move from investment banks to fintech startups or insurance firms in search of greater agency. There, these employees build up teams of 50 from scratch, or spearhead digital transformation.
“Being fired is never easy, but it offers a chance for people to take stock of your career, to discover their own silver lining,” says Natteri. “Sometimes it's life’s way of hitting the reset button when you’ve been doing one thing for too long.”
And with rapid industry shifts in the past few years, more candidates are exploring fulfilling their potential in new sectors, such as artificial intelligence, automation, and even ChatGPT for wealth, Kwan adds. “There may be new roles that we don’t even know about appearing in the next one or two years,” he says. “Just keep an open mind, keep learning, and the technology will help you find something in the market.”
With Pinpoint bullish on the future market, jobseekers are advised to use the time to prepare themselves by targeting particular roles, taking courses, and tailoring CVs to ensure they communicate a strong fit.
“Candidates should position their CV so that it shows that they're wanting to try something new and have an understanding of what it takes,” Natteri says. “Companies are willing to give people a try, as long as it’s someone willing to learn. It's up to the candidate to ensure that their tools are kept sharp in anticipation, so that when there is an upswing, they're there for the taking.”