Coders in demand as big banks begin hiring

Financial institutions are especially hungry for mobile app designers and data scientists who can build systems to move business online

FILE PHOTO: Citibank offices in the Canary Wharf financial district in London, Britain, November 17, 2017.  REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
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A hiring slowdown at banks in Asia is beginning to thaw, driven by demand for coders.

Lenders including DBS Group Holding, Oversea-Chinese Banking and Citigroup are adding workers to their tech departments in the region despite the economic downturn. Financial institutions are especially hungry for mobile app designers and data scientists who can build systems to crunch figures and move business online, recruiters say.

“Over the past few months, we have certainly seen the banking sector slow down its hiring due to Covid-19,” said Bethan Howell, a Hong Kong-based consultant at financial recruiter Selby Jennings. “However, we are now seeing the hiring freezes thawing and with this, a large amount of roles” emerging in technology, Ms Howell said.

While other hiring can wait, tech is not just something that you can pull the plug on

The recruitment plans are a promising sign for workers in an industry that remains under pressure to reduce headcount, and underscore how banks see tech investment as a priority even as the pandemic hammers economies. Asia has emerged faster from the months-long lockdown, giving room for lenders in the region to step up recruiting.

“Demand is strong – a lot of the talent we talk to have a few offers on hand from the finance sector,” said Hubert Tam, a managing partner at recruitment firm Sirius Partners in Hong Kong. “While other hiring can wait, tech is not just something that you can pull the plug on. The systems need to keep running.”

Social distancing has increased demand for digital services such as online banking and securities trading, and with it the need to beef up security.

DBS is creating 360 tech jobs for experienced staff to bolster its digital platform, Singapore’s biggest bank said last month when it announced plans to hire more than 2,000 people in its home market this year.

The tech hires range from interface designers and data scientists to experts in fraud detection and compliance.The lender is also looking to train and hire more people focusing on artificial intelligence and cloud computing. Part of the initiative is to help people reskill even if they don’t have backgrounds in technology, said Shee Tse Koon, DBS Singapore country head.

“We want to do our part to avoid having a lost generation of young graduates in Singapore whose career prospects are jeopardised because they are unable to find jobs due to the pandemic,” said Mr Shee. OCBC plans to hire 3,000 people in Singapore this year to support job creation. While it hasn’t disclosed how many of those may be for tech positions, it’s seeking data scientists, analysts and engineers, along with mobile developers and people for information systems security roles, among others, the Singapore-based bank said in an emailed statement.

Daniel Tan joined OCBC in Singapore as a data scientist at its AI Lab last week, having been let go from an online travel startup just days into the job, due the virus outbreak.

The 32-year-old wrote about his experience on LinkedIn, catching the attention of his now-supervisor at OCBC, who wrote to him to provide encouragement. When there was an opening about six weeks later, he applied and got the job.

“I consider myself lucky,” said Mr Tan. “The world is changing after Covid-19.”

Citigroup, meanwhile, is filling up positions for the 2,500 coders it decided to hire earlier this year, a large number of whom will be based in Asia including Shanghai and the Indian cities of Pune and Chennai, the US bank said.

“We have made significant progress to date and have put in place new and more digital hiring initiatives in response to the changing operating environment as a result of the ongoing pandemic,” Citigroup said in an emailed statement.

A push toward virtual banking in Hong Kong and Singapore has fuelled competition for tech talent who understand the financial industry. In Hong Kong, companies including ZA Bank, backed by Zhongan Online P&C Insurance, and firms funded by Ant Financial and Tencent Holdings are vying for a slice of the market dominated by traditional lenders like HSBC Holdings.

Conversations that were happening but delayed for years are finally happening

At the same time, a slowdown in tech funding has led to cutbacks at startups, providing an opportunity for financial firms to poach talent, said Neal Cross, Perth-based co-founder of FinTech start-up PictureWealth and former chief innovation officer at DBS.

“Having digital platforms was thought of as too hard, but right now the mentality is, it has to be done,” said Mr Cross. “Conversations that were happening but delayed for years are finally happening.”