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Southeast Asia job market report by Thuy Nugyen (December 2010)

Sunday 02 December 2012 by

South East Asia – tropical countries with excellent beaches, sunshine and friendly people, is the destination for expat professionals.

Under the economic crisis, while the US and European countries were deeply indulged in the recession, fortunes of Middle East have dropped, the economy of all Southeast Asia countries is still growing steadily. The growth of high-net-worth individuals from the new wealthy generations in the area really allures expat private client professionals.

At the top of the list, Singapore claimed the title of fastest-growing economy in the world, with GDP growth of 17.9% in the fist half of 2010. Playing a key role in the international trade and finance, Singapore has been an attractive region to expat professionals as the world’s fourth leading financial centre and a cosmopolitan city. It is a small country with a modern infrastructure and convenient transportation. English is the official language in Singapore and 42% of its population are foreigners who work and study there.  With a high rate of Western employees, it makes the country to be a very interesting mix of Western and Eastern cultures. According to a Western lawyer, when he first arrived in Singapore he had no culture shock at all, and enjoyed discovering the Eastern way of life.

The living standard in Singapore is very high. It is a clean and safe country with strict legislation. Expat professionals enjoy highly competitive remuneration packages, reasonable living cost with excellent medical care, affordable accommodation and advanced education system with international schools and universities. One expat private client professional, relocated to Singapore with two teenagers, expressed his satisfaction of his two children learning at an international school, at total expense of USD 15,000 per year per child. And the children were very excited about the year-round summer climate.

In 2009, after several European governments applied high income tax and legislation against tax haven, Singapore rose to be a wonderful booking centre of the world besides Switzerland. As an example, Standard Chartered Private Bank is hiring 300 private bankers from now until 2013. It makes Singapore continue to be one of the most promising regions for expat private client professionals. However, during the post downturn, when unemployment rate in the US and Europe is still high, many wealth management professionals consider Singapore for their career move, making the job market and package more competitive than ever.

Besides Singapore, Brunei is also classified as a developed country in Southeast Asia. This small, wealthy economy is a mixture of foreign and domestic entrepreneurship, government regulation, welfare measures, and village tradition. Brunei is well-known for crude oil and natural gas production. This too is a very attractive element for wealth management professionals to look at.

Malaysia is a relatively open state – oriented and newly industrialised market economy. Malaysia is an exporter of natural and agricultural resources, with most valuable exported resource being petroleum. Recently, Malaysia’s economy became less dependent on exported goods but instead an increasing tourism. As a result, tourism has become Malaysia’s third largest source of income from foreign exchange and Malaysia has developed itself into a centre of Islamic banking. Since the religion of most of the population in Malaysia is Islam, it may be a challenging for some to understand and integrate in the culture. The medical care is also well developed in Malaysia and living cost there is low, so expats can enjoy the full value of the remuneration package.

Philippines is a newly industrialized country. After the World War Two it was regarded as the second wealthiest in Asia next to Japan but the Asian financial crisis in 1997 affected the economy badly and made the fall of the stock market. And the result of it still dragged on until today when income of 45% of the population is less than 2USD per day. However, expat professionals feel very comfortable with Makati City, the country’s financial centre. It is modern, complies with international standards and very convenient to live and work in.

Indonesia relies on its natural resources and agricultural export. The economy was heavily hit by the Asian financial crisis in the late ninety’s but has been less affected by the recent global recession. However, Indonesia is famous with its nice beaches like Bali and its services. There is no doubt that expats enjoy the high standards of living and integrating with the local community.

Thailand too has an emerging economy. It has been a very attractive place for professionals to live and work for many years. Individuals can afford property, easily commute to work and enjoy life on some of the most beautiful beaches of the world. The medical care and international schools are up to a global standard too. Even though, the recent politic turbulence affected Thailand in a great deal, in general it is still a very attractive place.

Vietnam is known to have won a few wars. Although, the wars destroyed the country and its economy, it has made a significant recovery. After the reform in 1986, the economy of Vietnam has achieved significantly high and stable growth rate. Although the country is still very poor, the affluent demographic is still growing very fast. Recently, as a proof, Citibank has expanded its wealth management network in Vietnam with the opening of a new branch of Citigold hub in Hanoi to target the affluent individuals. The living cost and living standard there is very low, but individuals are respected and treated well in the country, they enjoy the wet rice culture and a value of competitive remunerations.

In general, despite a freeze of graduate hiring in the UK and Europe, the recruitment still continues in Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore. This is a result of both domestic wealth creation and support of new taxes and regulations from certain western governments which are against tax havens.

With much redundancy in international markets, talents are available in certain sectors. However, there is still a lack of true talent supply, especially in private banking where almost all the banks are looking for the seasoned relationship managers with proven track records.

The article was written by Thuy Nguyen, a Former Recruitment Consultant for AP Executive, a specialist global private wealth management consultancy.