Sep 29, 2008 Monday

1,500 new jobs for Barclays here

UK bank to hire highly skilled staff over next few years to run its technology centre

By Grace Ng, Finance Correspondent

BRITISH banking giant Barclays is going full steam ahead with its plans to hire up to 1,500 highly skilled staff over the next few years in Singapore, undeterred by a credit crunch that has crushed thousands of jobs in the financial sector.

The new hires will be mainly local, the bank said.

The high-end technical jobs will be located at Barclays' newly set-up technology centre in Singapore, which will support the group's retail and commercial banking businesses across the globe.

While the financial turmoil is expected to fester for at least another 18 months, Barclays sees this as 'a good time to expand', said Mr Frits Seegers, the chief executive of the bank's global retail and commercial banking.

Noting that the group is still making profits and has not suffered 'the losses that some other banks have had', Mr Seegers said: 'We decided to expand and to invest because we can.

'Now, prices are substantially lower, so it is a good time to expand. We have a top-notch team...and we can pounce very quickly,' he said in an interview last Friday.

He was speaking after the opening ceremony of Barclays' Business Technology Centre at Changi Business Park Central 1.

Barclays has already hired about 110, mainly local, staff, including engineers and information technology professionals. It plans to add another 300 to 400 by the end of next year, before ramping it up to 1,500 in 'three to five years' time', said Mr Seegers.

This headcount is in addition to the 2,500 that Barclays already has for its investment banking and wealth management businesses in Singapore.

Barclays was in the headlines last week for capitalising on its relative financial strength to snap up the American assets of bankrupt Lehman Brothers, which Mr Seegers noted was a 'terrific deal for Barclays'.

The London-based bank has moved quickly to grow its commercial and retail banking presence outside its home market into growth markets, such as India, Pakistan, Africa and China.

Mr Seegers said 'it is still quite costly' to acquire banking franchises in emerging markets, while some buying opportunities had emerged in the United States. Barclays' commercial and retail banking businesses will continue to grow in emerging markets through organic growth, as well as acquisitions that are 'priced right', he said.

Last month, Barclays snapped up a small Indonesian lender Bank Akita and launched its line of retail banking products in Pakistan. It also planted some 1,500 branches across Asia in the past 15 months, said Mr Seegers. This growth is supported by back-end operations, which have been consolidated into three centres in Singapore, Shanghai and the Indian city of Pune.

'We picked Singapore to be the technology heart for Barclays... We will put the high-value jobs in Singapore, as it offers the quality staff we need,' said Mr Seegers.

He said the selection process for these jobs had been very rigorous, with each successful applicant undergoing some 16 interviews.

Singapore, Shanghai and Pune are providing technology services to 14 emerging markets and seven Western European counties.

Besides Barclays, financial institutions such as Merrill Lynch, Citi, Credit Suisse and UBS have also located their back-end operations in locations like Harbour Front and Changi, hiring thousands. However, hiring for support and technology functions is said to have slowed down as these banks cut costs and lay off front-end staff, said industry watchers.

Mr Seegers dismissed suggestions that Temasek Holdings' share in Barclays had an influence on the bank's decision to hire hundreds more new staff in Singapore.

The veteran banker, who lived in Singapore for six years, noted: 'We have a good relationship with Singapore, with the Government and with Singaporeans.

'We chose Singapore because of the quality and dedication of the people here.'

He warned that there would be 'tough times ahead for the next 18 months', as the US, United Kingdom and Asia were all experiencing a slowdown.

'But we have to be where the people are,' he said. ' Asia has a 2.6 billion population and this is where we want to be'.

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