Now it’s Grab’s turn to poach people from banks in Singapore

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Following the lead set by Google, Singapore-based tech firm Grab is increasingly raiding the Republic’s banking sector to fuel its local headcount expansion.

Among the latest banking professionals to join the ride-hailing company, which is valued at north of $6bn and recently acquired Uber’s Southeast Asian operations, is Gary Wong, who is now head of GrabPay, a mobile-wallet app.

Wong previously spent just under four years as OCBC’s head of strategic partnerships, group lifestyle financing, according to his online profile. He was at DBS between 2010 and 2014, latterly as a VP of usage and co-brand products.

His move to the tech sector will be worrying for banks in Singapore, which are building payments services to rival GrabPay and are also attempting to recruit and retain senior digital strategists. OCBC is trying to expand its digital team, but is facing competition from tech firms, Pranav Seth, head of e-business at the bank, told us. The brain drain to tech companies, which are perceived to offer less stuffy working environments than banks, is a now serious threat to banks’ operations in Asia, according to in-house recruiters who attended a recent eFinancialCareers roundtable.

Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest tech unicorn, isn’t just recruiting from the finance sector for its payments arm, however. Like Google in Singapore, the firm has former banking professionals, both junior and senior, scattered across its business. Wong’s former OCBC colleague, Wenjun Tang, is head of strategic supply risk, for example.

Investment bankers have also become ‘Grabbers’, as the firm's employees are now called. In September 2016, Goldman Sachs executive director Nicholas Anthony came on board as head of M&A and investments. Chinese tech titans Alibaba and Tencent have similarly employed bankers in corporate development roles.

Grab’s penchant for hiring finance professionals is perhaps unsurprising given that its president, Ming Maa, worked for Goldman Sachs’ global private equity fund for almost 12 years.

If you work for a bank and want to join Grab, you may not have too far to walk for an interview. The firm’s new – and much larger – headquarters and research and development centre, which opened in December, is located at Marina One, in the heart of Singapore’s Marina Bay financial district.

Grab announced last year that it wants to recruit 800 employees over 24 months in Singapore, Bangalore, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and Seattle.

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Image credit: afif c. kusuma, Getty

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