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Calls to cap bonuses can be a boon for HK

Published on Friday, 22 Nov 2013
Philip Quinn

Described by London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, as possibly the most deluded measure to come from Europe since Diocletian tried to fix the price of groceries across the Roman Empire, the soon-to-be-implemented cap on bank bonuses is prompting Hong Kong banks to review the way they attract and retain employees.

While Asia has not yet seen the same restrictions imposed as in many other global financial centres, it is inevitable that global players based in the region will try to harmonise their pay and performance structures, says Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays.

Ahead of the bonus cap scheduled to be introduced in Europe at the beginning of 2014, Burrage believes employers will push up base salaries and look for other ways to attract and retain employees. “We have already seen banks in other parts of the world increase base salaries in order to avoid bonus cap restrictions,” says Burrage, who has also noticed that Hong Kong employers are using competitive retention packages, promotion and internal mobility for career growth to attract and retain top talent.

In a similar way, Philip Quinn, banking and finance managing consultant with Kelly Services, says pragmatic job candidates have come to understand and accept that big bonuses are no longer the order of the day and probably won’t be for a long time to come.

“While people will always want some kind of monetary increase to move or stay, the question is tipping more towards ‘what else can I get out of this move?’” says Quinn.

According to him, whether moving or staying, employees are looking for a solid career plan structure and interesting challenges to keep them engaged. For specific jobs, they are also looking for a clear promotional path over a longer period of time.

Quinn adds that work-life balance is also becoming more of a consideration. He says that as operational costs have been cut over the past five years – and departments have scaled back headcount – individual workloads have been increased. As a result, Quinn says employees are becoming disenchanted with working in the industry. “I have more and more bankers tell me that all they are doing is working,” he says.

“A growing number tell me that they would be happy to take a pay cut and work fewer hours to spend more time with their families,” Quinn adds.

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