Banks tussle for the brightest from the Class of 2017

During the annual campus recruitment season that is now drawing to a close, the banks have been fanning out to Singapore's universities in an attempt to woo the brightest sparks into joining them.

Even amid this slow economy, the banks, both foreign and local, collectively have 2,000 jobs on offer; openings at the three local banks alone account for about three-quarters that number.

The competition among the soon-to-be-graduates to land a well-paying bank job (say, S$4,000 a month for a start) is fierce, but the rivalry for talent is just as intense among the banks, which use different recruitment strategies to stand out.

OCBC threw a sky picnic on the 50th floor of its OCBC Centre; HSBC sized up potential candidates through intimate dinner conversations; JP Morgan set up pop-up cafes, and DBS held hackathons.

Disappointment among the candidates can run deep as the success rate is low - not much more than 10 per cent; those aiming to get into the banks' very-selective graduate programmes are usually the creme de la creme.

For example, Standard Chartered Bank was last year snowed under 1,000 applications from fresh graduates seeking a place in its 12-month international graduate (IG) programme. It took in only the best 30.

This year, the bank intends to take in a similar number of new graduates for its 2018 IG programme; in addition, it wants another 30 new graduates for information, technology and operations functions.

DBS Bank last year received up to 5,000 fresh-graduate applicants and hired about 450, with many since assigned to sales and operations. It plans to hire a similar number of new graduates this year.

Only one in 10 of last year's cohort made it to the ranks as the bank's management and graduate associates, who will be trained in 12- or 24-month programmes.

James Loo, DBS executive director for group human resources, said potential hires should have strong communication skills, creativity, initiative, good problem-solving skills and be able to work in a team.

"We took an innovative approach to the way we assess candidates by building hackathons into the recruitment process."

This year, DBS started two 12-month technology graduate programmes to groom the next generation of technology leaders. For this, it has 80 places.

United Overseas Bank expects to hire about 500 fresh graduates this year. Of this number, 360 will go into personal banking and 140, into operations. Only 20 will get into its 16-month management associate programme; the bank expects to take on 47 management associates across the group.

Jenny Wong, UOB's managing director and head of group human resources, said interest is strong among the graduates-to-be; with still two weeks to go during the graduate recruitment season, already 1,000 individuals have signalled their interest.

Fresh graduates are keen on the management associate programme, which offers them a chance to build a career with leadership and regional roles, she said.

UOB personal banker and UOB associate officer programmes are also popular with those looking at sales and operations careers, she added.

OCBC Bank aims to hire 500 fresh graduates this year; it took in 550 last year. As with last year, the bank is looking for over 40 "high-potential individuals" for its "young bankers" programme, said Jacinta Low, who heads HR planning.

The 12-month programme is in its third year.

Ms Low described programme candidates as "go-getters with high levels of motivation and drive, strong leadership qualities and a penchant for problem-solving and new challenges".

Aspirants eyeing careers at top investment banks UBS, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan will mostly have to first prove themselves in these banks' internship programmes, which typically last 10 weeks.

At these banks, becoming a full-time analyst (an entry-level rank) is usually through conversion from an internship.

Nikki Davies, Credit Suisse's head of campus recruitment Asia-Pacific said that this year, the recruitment drive will be for posts in investment banking, risk and IT functions. Job openings will be posted in late July/early August for next year's internships.

"We look forward to welcoming this year's intern class, who will be the source of our 2018 graduate cohort."

Singapore graduates account for about 15 per cent of all campus hires in the Asia-Pacific.

Last year, Credit Suisse received over 13,000 applications across the region for internship and full-time graduate roles; more than 4,000 came from Singapore. The bank did not disclose the final number who were offered jobs this year.

Last year, Credit Suisse accelerated its hiring of private-banking analysts, who do not go through an internship programme; it took in more than 40 graduate trainees in Singapore and Hong Kong, more than double the intake of the year before.

Separately, Credit Suisse runs a Compliance Academy globally. As at last year, more than 90 Singapore candidates had undergone training there, most of them fresh graduates.

In Asia, the Credit Suisse Compliance Academy runs a two-year programme with two on-the-job rotations in various compliance roles.

JP Morgan said it is looking to hire about 1,100 graduates - 650 full-time analysts and 450 interns - in 12 Asia-Pacific markets this year.

This month, it set up careers pop-up cafes at the National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University.

Said Edmund Lee, senior country officer at JP Morgan Singapore: "The purpose of setting up a visible event on campus grounds is to attract students from across multiple disciplines."

Apart from the traditional banking roles in wealth management and investment banking, the bank is also looking for talent in operations and technology, he said.

The bank employs 40,000 technologists globally. The majority of its more than 3,000 employees in Singapore work in the bank's global tech hub, he said.

JP Morgan runs a 10-week internship and a two- to three-year full-time programme across its corporate investment bank, asset & wealth management and corporate functions.

UBS, the world's largest private bank, regards Singapore graduates as being among the best candidates for the jobs it looks to fill, going by the rising rate at which interns become part of the bank staff.

The bank's spokeswoman Julie Yeo said that regionally, about 60 per cent of the bank's graduate hires are conversions from internships. But among the incoming Singapore graduates this year, the conversion rate - for the investment bank and technology functions in particular - is 100 per cent.

"The 100 per cent conversion rate reflects talent calibre and high demand, especially in tech roles," she said.

UBS runs its 10-week summer internship programme across the investment bank, asset management and corporate centre in Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney and Melbourne, and in China as well.

DBS management associate Jeremy Chen had a few job offers to pick from.

"I was offered a role in a management consulting firm, as well as a local regulator," he said, but went with DBS as he saw that its people did not fit the stereotype of conventional bankers in that they were "open and encouraging", he said.

This article was first published on March 15, 2017.
Get The Business Times for more stories.