Barclays to Credit Suisse Shrink Singapore Space: Southeast Asia

Barclays Plc and Credit Suisse Group AG are among banks that have given up Singapore office space as lenders pare ambitions for growth in the Asian financial hub.

Global banks vacated about 500,000 square feet of leased space in the city since 2011, enough to seat 3,800 employees, according to estimates by Jones Lang LaSalle Property Consultants Pte. About 80 percent of that is in the central business district, data tracked by the real estate broker show.

Banks reduced staff and hired fewer people than initially planned after they scaled back operations following stricter global regulations on everything from capital to liquidity. Singapore’s four-year campaign to restrict the hiring of foreigners increased competition for local workers and made it more expensive to recruit them -- dissuading banks from adding back-office staff, said Jones Lang LaSalle’s Chris Archibold.

“The banking industry is undergoing a huge amount of change, especially around its capital-intensive businesses, which means there’s less jobs,” Archibold, the company’s Singapore head of markets, said by phone. “Globally and locally, there have been various bits and pieces put in place by various governments that have drastically affected the banks.”

The vacated space won’t have a “material effect” on rents because it’s a fraction of the 64 million square feet of office area available for leasing in Singapore, Archibold added.

Revenue and profitability have come under pressure amid the tighter banking rules that were implemented since the global financial crisis, forcing firms to cut costs and reduce payrolls. Banks worldwide have announced more than 500,000 job cuts in the past four years, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Financial Hub

Singapore is Asia’s biggest wealth management hub and last year overtook Japan as the region’s largest foreign-exchange center. Banks such as Citigroup Inc. and Standard Chartered Plc have their largest trading floors in Asia in the city-state.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government has been tightening the hiring of foreigners since at least 2010 amid voter discontent over infrastructure strains and increased competition for jobs, property and education. Last September, it said it will require companies to advertise jobs for professionals locally before seeking people from abroad.

“It’s now more of a struggle to find people at the required price points, given current government regulations around import of labor,” said Archibold, referring to the support-function jobs that banks had anticipated to fill when they leased space in 2010 and 2011.

Barclays Trimming

Barclays, the U.K.’s second-largest lender, recently exited 29,000 square feet of suburban office space in Singapore’s Changi Business Park and will leave 15,500 square feet in another eastern suburb by July. It also gave up two stories of prime office space in the financial district that has since been leased by LinkedIn Corp., the world’s biggest online professional-networking service, people familiar with the matter said this month.

John McGuinness, a Singapore-based spokesman at Barclays, declined to comment for this story.

Credit Suisse is planning a phased exit from its One Raffles Quay office space in the downtown area this year, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named, citing confidentiality. It’s also seeking replacement tenants at some of its leased office space in Changi, near the airport, the person said.

“Credit Suisse continually reviews its real estate strategy in line with the needs of its businesses,” Juliette Leong, a Singapore-based spokeswoman, said by e-mail on May 14. “Singapore is the largest regional hub for its business and back-office support and remains very committed to its presence in this market.”

Legal Costs

Lenders are also facing rising costs stemming from legal action. Credit Suisse this week agreed to pay a $2.6 billion fine after pleading guilty to U.S. charges that it helped Americans cheat on their taxes.

Banks now occupy 9.5 million square feet of leased office space in Singapore, down from 10 million square feet in 2011, figures from Jones Lang LaSalle Property Consultants show. The real estate firm is a unit of Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. Its analysis was based on data for firms that have at least 30,000 square feet leased on the island.

HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s largest bank, left two buildings in the city in 2011 and 2012, grouping its operations at one in the central business district and another about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from that, said Gareth Hewett, a Hong Kong-based spokesman.

‘Positive Move’

“The consolidation was a positive move for HSBC and its staff, improving efficiencies in a workplace with modern facilities and infrastructure,” he said by e-mail on May 14. As of May last year, London-based HSBC had eliminated more than $4 billion of annual expenses and 46,000 jobs since 2011.

Standard Chartered reduced the number of its employees in Singapore to about 7,400 at the end of 2013 from 7,600 a year earlier, according to financial statements from the London-based bank’s local unit. Eva Ang, a spokeswoman for the lender in Singapore, didn’t immediately respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment on its real estate strategy.

At Barclays, the move from its suburban offices to the 290,000 square feet the bank occupies at Marina Bay Financial Centre will affect about 500 employees, people familiar with the matter said in April. The location is part of the 360-hectare (890-acre) Marina Bay development that Singapore started building in 2005 on reclaimed land as its new financial district. The bank has another 96,000 square feet at One Raffles Quay, also in Marina Bay, according to data provided by the bank in September 2012.

Barclays had 3,500 full-time employees in Singapore in October 2013, according to a press release marking 40 years in the country. That was down from 4,700 about a year earlier, bank data from September 2012 show.

Job Cuts

Chief Executive Officer Antony Jenkins said on May 8 that Barclays will eliminate 7,000 jobs from its investment bank. That will add to the 12,000 reductions across the group announced in February, bringing the number of positions to go by 2016 to 19,000.

“While some financial institutions have relocated some lower-end roles in their middle and back offices out of Singapore due to cost reasons, they are also retaining and growing higher value-added activities here,” the Ministry of Manpower and Monetary Authority of Singapore said in a joint statement in response to queries.

The Monetary Authority, or central bank, has been working with the financial community to raise the competencies of the local workforce because having a “critical pool” of qualified professionals is a key attraction for global banks to keep their operations in the city-state, according to the statement.

Most Affordable

Singapore remains the most affordable city for office rents among the top five major financial centers, including London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, according to a Cushman & Wakefield Inc. report in February. The annual occupancy cost in Singapore’s central business district is 803 euros ($1,100) a square meter, compared with 1,432 euros in Hong Kong’s Central district and 2,122 euros in London’s West End, the report shows.

Not all banks are trimming space, with U.S. lenders among those expanding their footprint on the island.

While JPMorgan Chase & Co. gave up about 50,000 square feet of the 200,000 square feet it occupied in downtown Singapore last year, it added 130,000 square feet in the eastern suburbs, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named as the information is confidential. Darrell Wright, a Singapore-based spokesman for JPMorgan, declined to comment.

Citigroup, Goldman

Citigroup Inc., whose 10,000 employees on the island make it the largest employer among foreign banks, occupies more than 1 million square feet, up from 981,000 square feet at the end of 2006, Adam Abdur Rahman, a Singapore-based spokesman, said by e-mail on May 16.

For Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the largest prime broker in Asia, its Singapore real estate occupancy is the highest ever, Edward Naylor, a Hong Kong-based spokesman, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The bank is considering plans to occupy more space, he said, without elaborating.

“The regulatory environment for banks in Europe appears to be harsher than it is in the U.S.,” said Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd, citing pressure ranging from capital requirements to political debate on profits. “The U.S. banks are frankly just lucky.”

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