How to get a banking job as a graduate from a university in Singapore or Hong Kong

You want to get a graduate banking job in Singapore or Hong Kong (application deadlines are looming) but you didn’t attend a prestigious university overseas. You’ve performed well on a local degree course but your contemporaries with scholarships (or rich parents) will soon graduate from the likes of Stanford and Oxford and return to Asia in search of work.

All is not lost. In an effort to further localise their workforces and tackle skill shortages from the ground up, banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are launching new recruitment and training programmes targetting domestic campuses.

Hong Kong and Singaporean institutions typically don’t make the top-20 in global rankings of overall university prowess. And in Singapore, about four in five parents would consider sending their children abroad for education, with the US, UK, Germany and Australia the most popular destinations, according to an HSBC survey released in September.

But if you want an entry-level banking job in Singapore or Hong Kong, staying at home to study is becoming a more viable option, particular if you’re majoring in economics or econometrics – banking-friendly subjects in which local universities now enjoy global clout. Information provider QS last month ranked the National University of Singapore (NUS) fifth and The University of Hong Kong (HKU) twelfth in the world by employer reputation in those subjects.

NUS and HKU remain among your best domestic options for breaking into banking, especially front-office investment banking, in Singapore and Hong Kong, according to recruiters. “In IB or fund management, degrees from top-tier local or Ivy League foreign universities are very desirable,” says Annie Yap, managing director of search firm AYP Asia Group in Singapore.

Outside of investment banking – and especially in corporate banking – firms have ramped by their recruitment programmes across all local campuses over the past two years. “Our campus recruitment team works closely with all four local universities in Singapore – NTU, SMU, NUS and SUTD – and the five polytechnics,” says Theresa Phua, Singapore head of human resources at DBS. “As well as career fairs and campus recruitment talks and workshops, we now run exclusive networking events for penultimate-year undergraduates.”

With talent in short supply in job functions such as risk and compliance, banks are increasing their graduate recruitment in the middle and back-office, and local graduates are their prime targets. Earlier this year Barclays launched a 24-month “apprenticeship” programme for polytechnic graduates in Singapore that rotates them around support functions including finance, operations and human resources.

Hong Kong and Singapore-based students are also well represented among the intern ranks of banks in their cities as they don’t need to relocate and banks organise most internships dates around the domestic academic calendar. DBS sees a “high level of interest” from local students applying for the 400 internship positions it offers annually, says Phua.

Banks are starting to form relationships with local students before they even apply for internships and traineeships. Citi, for example, runs a 13-week transaction banking course for undergraduates at the National University of Singapore Business School. The campus-based programme, taught by both NUS academics and Citi bankers, was launched last year in direct response to talent shortages plaguing transaction banking in Singapore.

Morgan Stanley also partners with NUS, with its bankers guest lecturing (about equities, fixed income, investment banking, wealth management, research and asset management) and working with groups of students on “real life” banking projects. Credit Suisse, meanwhile, is currently running a equity-sales video competition – it’s only open to students at the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, and the Peking University.

Despite recent efforts to boost recruitment from Singaporean and Hong Kong campuses, it would wrong to assume that banks in the two cities are now favouring local degrees over foreign ones. “A good degree from an elite overseas university will still open doors for you in Asian banking; just as a good local degree now will,” says Han Lee, director of search firm Lico Resources in Singapore.

Simon Mortlock


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