When Jason Marsham arrived in Australia four years ago with his partner, the couple’s experience in finding employment was like chalk and cheese.
His partner, who works in technology, was offered a job and a visa within four days.
Meanwhile Mr Marsham, with qualifications in accounting and investment management as well as experience at the world’s largest financial firms in New York City and London, struggled to find a permanent job.
UK citizen Jason Marsham struggled to get a job in financial compliance in Australia, despite his experience with some of the world’s largest firms. Credit:James Brickwood
While the need to attract foreign talent for the local technology industry is well recognised by the federal government, Australia’s financial services industry hasn’t had much help recruiting staff well versed in fighting financial crime.
The government’s skilled occupations list is sporadically updated and features a range of financial roles – including auditing and branch management – but not compliance.
This has meant experienced foreign workers are excluded from the industry or forced to work on temporary contracts, with no job security or pathway to permanent residency.
Commonwealth Bank chief risk officer Nigel Williams this week declared a skills shortage when it comes to fighting financial crime and called on universities to encourage younger Australians to enter the industry. “These jobs are going to last,” he said. “This is not going away.”
The country’s two largest banks – CBA and Westpac – have been fined a combined $2 billion since 2018 over systemic breaches of anti-money laundering laws. The banks have since invested hundreds of millions of dollars in scaling up operations but Mr Marsham said Australia is still more than a decade behind the rest of the world.
Global banks have long ago been stung with major fines, like HSBC’s $US1.9 billion penalty in 2012, that forced drastic improvements in processes, technology and training.
“From a logical perspective, I would see it as an industry where international talent is absolutely fundamental,” Mr Marsham said. “In no way shape or form do you want to discourage Australian talent, you want to build that talent in your country, but the first step is getting people to share that knowledge so it infiltrates through the system.”
The Age and Herald have reported major banks, including CBA and National Australia Bank, have turned to labour hire firms to fill ongoing roles in financial crime with temporary contractors. While the banks have developed internal training programs, new recruits often have no experience in finance or compliance.
Compliance professional Jamal Miller has completed six contract jobs across five financial firms since moving to Australia from London in 2018. The 28-year-old has worked in anti-money laundering teams at financial start-ups and major companies like State Street Global.
Contract work is inefficient for financial firms, Mr Miller said, as each new job requires on-boarding and training that lasts up to two weeks. He’s also often paid more than permanent staff and said he has witnessed substandard performance from some contractors.
“Everyone wants to try and get an extension, so you want to try and do as much as you can, how else can you prove you’re a good worker? The best way is to show you can process the most, numbers wise. But that creates errors,” he said. “I’m always shocked about the standard of work I see.”
Mr Miller said the reliance on contractors causes high staff turnover where management and staff are not invested in building a strong corporate culture. “It goes both ways,” he said. “Do they really give it their best? Give it their all? Does the company truly invest in them? You don’t get that longevity and ownership out of everyone, everyone knows it’s a turning wheel.”
The skilled occupations list is diverse, with non-financial roles ranging from chefs to horse trainers. Carina Ford Immigration Lawyers partner Rick Gunn said there was a “certain witchcraft” to how the list is formed, adding banks could lobby the government to add compliance roles to the list.
A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said the skilled program was “underpinned by targeted occupation lists that serve the purpose of identifying occupations” where there are “genuine skills needs” and was built using employment trends and stakeholder feedback.
This month, the government added internal and external auditor to the priority migration skilled occupation list and the spokesman said financial crime roles “may be considered” under these changes. However, Mr Gunn said priority applications often require a specific set of qualifications and the job descriptions were rigorously vetted.
Part of the deal for priority migration is workers must commit to one company for between two and three years, which gives employers certainty and keeps costs low. “If people are highly skilled, the prospect of getting someone here without a PR [permanent residency] pathway makes it a difficult sell,” Mr Gunn said.
Mr Marsham said Australia could follow Ireland’s lead by further relaxing immigration laws to transform the country into a hotspot for skilled compliance professionals. If not, he, among others, may have to return home. “We want to have kids in the future, in the next couple of years, but if we’re not looking at PR, we’ll have to look at moving our life back so we can start setting up.”
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