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Greater pressure on compliance teams across Hong Kong and Singapore – are you ready?

Licensed financial institutions in Hong Kong and Singapore are facing ever-increasing responsibilities, and it’s the compliance function that’s bearing the burden of keeping firms up to date and out of trouble.

This week marks the commencement date for the information collection period of the SFC’s Manager-in-Charge regime, which comes into effect for the 2000 licensed entities in Hong Kong in July this year. This new protocol will see a ramping up the personal liability of individuals within financial organisations, should any wrongdoing be discovered.

Meanwhile, the MAS has been tightening its scrutiny on fraud and financial crime in Singapore since last year, strengthening AML enforcement teams and conducting more onsite inspections in the wake of the 1MDB scandal, which saw the withdrawal of Falcon Bank’s private banking license.

As a result, the compliance market across Asia’s international financial centres is running hot, with firms everywhere in need of the best talent available.

What this means for firms…

Financial institutions are left with the question of whether to ask more of existing teams or to buy in the technical skills they need to meet the regulators’ demands. 2016 was a challenging time for securing new headcount and making external hires, so many firms may already be somewhat under-served in the compliance function, particularly in the area of financial crime.

It does seem that a number of firms are responding by increasing financial crimes headcount. While some banks expanded their compliance teams three or four years ago when facing regulatory issues or consent orders, others are only just starting to adjust to the increased regulatory expectations in this area, and are having to play catch-up to keep up-to-date.

…And for talent

Those with financial crimes experience will be highly in demand, and there is an increasing demand for compliance candidates with technology as well as project and change management experience. Good controls and risk management skills are also in demand at present.

That said, when I speak to top candidates in my network, many are worried about the increased workload that the Manager-in-Charge regime is expected to entail, with some also reluctant to take leadership roles where they could become personally liable if anything goes wrong. This could lead to a talent shortage for the most critical Hong Kong compliance roles, with some top individuals not chasing promotions in favour of a slightly easier life, even though we’re seeing increases in salaries and generous bonuses for those who move at the senior end of the talent spectrum.

Given the reluctance of some compliance professionals to accept greater responsibilities, a strong attraction strategy will be key to securing the talent needed to meet continuously evolving compliance requirements. Offering the right remuneration and benefits will be essential to investing in the talent needed.

I expect we will see significant competition over the top talent in both Hong Kong and Singapore this year, and it’s likely that firms will have to battle it out to get the best people to helm the increasingly more critical compliance function.

If you need to improve your compliance capacity this year, get in touch on + 852 2870 3007 or email

Mark Moorby

Managing Director, Head of Risk (EMEA)

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