Published March 13, 2008

S'pore firms hunt overseas as talent pool runs dry

Banks offering 60-80% pay hikes; IT, telco sectors also on the prowl


(SINGAPORE) Senior executives in hot demand are so hard to come by that employers here are resorting to foreign talent - especially from Europe and Australia - to fill the gap, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters.

The shortage, which cuts across the market, is so acute that candidates are calling the shots. And banks, especially desperate for new blood, are looking outside the industry to meet their hiring needs.

According to Robert Walters, some banks are willing to hike pay 60-80 per cent for top commerce talent, including people from oil and gas, semiconductors, shipping, information technology and telecommunications, retail, property and services.

'Our specialist recruitment teams are seeing strong demand from what is clearly a candidate-short market,' says Mark Ellwood, Robert Walters Singapore's managing director. 'All sectors that we recruited for in 2007 showed signs of growth, with financial services being one of the main hiring sectors, among others.

'With many banks having 'hubbed' and continuing to 'hub' their support functions into Singapore, there has been a large demand for candidates within financial services. Many organisations have started looking outside of financial services to recruit qualified people, putting even more pressure on other sectors.'

Tax specialists are in especially hot demand as more companies set up their headquarters in Singapore.

Cost accountants with solid experience are needed to meet rising demand in the semiconductor, manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors. Controllers with plant experience and finance professionals who have worked in China are also highly sought after.

'Salaries increased as organisations attempted to lure candidates with 'Big 4' (accounting firm) experience into commerce and away from the banking and financial services community,' Robert Walters says in a report released yesterday.

'Increases ranged from 15 to 40 per cent, with most candidates being highly aware of their value in the market,' it says. 'Companies which offered salaries below this were often left empty-handed as candidates received multiple offers from those willing to pay more.'

Figures released by the headhunting firm show that a finance director with a large company made $192,000-$300,000 in 2007. This year, he will command $220,000 to $400,000. A finance director in a small to mid-size company, who was paid $180,000-$216,000 last year, will get between $180,000 and $230,000 in 2008.

A financial controller in a large company took home $138,000-$180,000 in 2007. He will earn between $150,000 and $200,000 this year.

Robert Walters says investment banks, which were aggressive in hiring in the first half of 2007, looked abroad to meet their requirements. Australia was a popular source.

Banks that aggressively built up their foreign exchange and commodities businesses also resorted to foreign recruitment, according to Robert Walters.

International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) documentation space continues to be one of the most challenging areas to service in the Singapore market. Experienced ISDA candidates are sought from offshore markets like India, Australia and the UK to fill positions created through role migration within foreign banks.

'Candidates with relevant ISDA experience saw significant increases in base salaries as the competition for their services increased,' says Robert Walters.

Commodities professionals are in high demand by local and foreign banks - and many look to Australia and the UK for experienced candidates.