Two emerging skills that banks in Singapore are searching for right now

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Mandarin isn’t the only second language that’s increasingly sought after at banks in Singapore – Indonesian and Japanese speakers are now on their radar.

[efc_twitter text="There’s been a surge in demand for Indonesian and Japanese language skills in Singapore"] over the past six months, say recruiters, although so far it’s been restricted to relationship-manager (RM) roles in corporate banking and private banking.

Which banks are hiring, and why?


Bahasa Indonesia skills are equally in demand for RM positions in private banking and corporate banking, says Gary Lai, managing director, Southeast Asia, at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership in Singapore. Private wealth in Indonesia is expanding rapidly – between 2009 and 2013 the number of Indonesian millionaires rose by 62%, according to Wealth Insight – and nearby Singapore is a leading off-shore centre for rich Indonesians to invest their wealth.

“Almost all private banks in Singapore would consider hiring Indonesian-speaking bankers with a large book. Private banking requires a personal but professional relationship with Indonesian clients and although many of them can communicate in English, they may feel a greater personal touch if the RM can speak their native language,” says Lai. “This is also true for corporate-banking clients – Indonesian companies or foreign companies expanding in Indonesia who use Singapore as a banking hub. It's particularly useful to know the local language if you’re dealing with the CFO or owner of the company,” he adds.

Singapore-based Bahasa speakers are mostly found in large corporate banks with operations in both Singapore and Indonesia – ANZ, BNI, Citi, DBS, OCBC, Standard Chartered and UOB, for example. RMs who specialise in Indonesia’s large commodities sector – the country is a major coal exporter – are particularly sought after, says Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore.

While Indonesian banks like BNI can tap their large domestic headcounts and transfer staff into Singapore, others prefer to recruit Indonesian speakers already working in the city state. “Indonesian-based candidates are not the preferred choice unless they’ve had previous international work experience,” says Lai. “But the pool of Indonesian-speaking candidates based in Singapore is still small.”

If you’re one of the few Indonesian finance professionals working in Singapore, banks back home may also want to hire you. DBS is growing its Indonesian business this year, for example, after appointing veteran banker Paulus Sutisna as its new boss in the country earlier in February. “If you want to return to Jakarta you'll be very popular – and this applies in investment banking as well as in corporate and private banking,” says Christina Ng, executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. “You’ll be paid in US dollars there, but you'll still need to take a pay cut compared with Singapore – most people move for family reasons.”


While the demand for Indonesian language skills spans local, regional and global banks, Japanese firms are at the forefront of recruiting Japanese speakers into their Singapore ranks.

Mizuho announced in September that it would be increasing its 600-strong Singaporean headcount by 50%, taking on another 300 people in the following three to five years. The firm opened a new transaction banking unit in Singapore last year and moved into plush new premises in the city’s Asia Square development.

Last month Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU) announced that transaction banking was the firm’s key growth business in Singapore and across ex-Japan Asia. The firm’s current Singapore-based transaction-banking headcount of 60 will be expanded, Go Watanabe, BTMU’s chief executive for Asia & Oceania, told the Business Times.

Recruiters suggest that these banks are hiring Japanese speakers for front office transaction banking roles. These new recruits will be tasked with winning more business from some 180 Japanese corporates that have regional headquarters in Singapore.  “As banks seek steady revenues from transaction banking, there’s strong demand for transaction bankers to work with large Japanese companies who have high-volume businesses,” says Ng from LMA.

“Japanese-speaking candidates are valued in Singapore because Japanese clients here are typically less fluent in English than clients from some of the other Asian markets,” adds Lai from Charterhouse. “And having a percentage of bankers in Singapore who are fluent in both Japanese and English helps with internal communication within Japanese banks.”

Standard Chartered is one of the only global banks likely to expand its Japanese-coverage headcount in Singapore this year. Earlier this month Yasunori Takeuchi, chief executive officer for Japan at Stan Chart, said the firm was considering hiring more staff in Singapore to service Japanese customers that want to boost their operations in Southeast Asia.

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