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Climbing costs and skyrocketing school fees, but most expats still adore Singapore

Singapore’s now more expensive than Hong Kong for expat bankers, according to the latest Mercer survey released earlier this week. The republic edged three places forward from last year’s ranking, coming 8th this year ahead of Hong Kong’s 9th placing.

This now makes Singapore the third most expensive Asian destination for expats after Tokyo and Osaka.

Pundits have pointed fingers at rising rents and the strong Singapore dollar as contributors to the city state moving up the table. But what are the recruitment implications, if any, of increasing costs? Is Singapore a less desirable place to move to?

Matt Lodge, chief executive officer of Confero, an IT banking recruiter, says rising living costs have changed the demographics of incoming talent. In contrast to before the financial crisis, potential expats are now more likely to be single people or couples without children.

International schools are also becoming prohibitively expensive – try S$30k per kid annually – for those with large families, says Lodge. “We have had to discount a few candidates upfront because of the cost factor. This means our pool of candidates has been reduced.”

With fat expat packages a thing of the past, it is very rare for banks to cover school fees. Higher living costs also mean candidates tend to go for more senior roles, commanding salaries of S$200k and above, adds Lodge.

Singapore’s still sought after

Despite these changes in the candidate pool, Lodge says overseas interest in Singapore jobs remains strong.

Tanya Sinha, manager, financial services (front office), Robert Walters Singapore, agrees: “As Singapore continues to be the centre of action for various segments within the banking sector, the attraction remains relatively high. We have even witnessed cases where expats are willing to relocate here even without help from their prospective firms.”

Private banking, corporate banking and transaction banking are expanding in Singapore, says Sinha. Other attractions for candidates include a friendly tax regime, good infrastructure, low crime and political stability.

Lodge adds: “It’s still a wonderful place to be in, especially since Europe and the US are in a mess right now, so expats are definitely willing to move over here.”

However, if Singaporean living costs continue to rise unabated and Western economies recover, banking professionals could start to consider moving to cheaper financial centres, he says.

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