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Feeling the pull

Published on Tuesday, 23 Sep 2014
illustrations: iStockphoto
Blanche Chan

Bank hiring is challenged by other sectors, writes Chris Davis.

Hong Kong banks have long been employers of choice, but with widespread changes in banking regulatory systems and competition from other industry sectors, they now need to work much harder to attract and retain employees.  

Blanche Chan, head of human resources at Shanghai Commercial Bank, says building and maintaining a competitive workforce is a major challenge for many banks. She says factors including an ageing workforce, working mothers leaving to focus on family commitments, and the trend among younger staff for greater career mobility are responsible for an emerging shortage of both junior and experienced staff. 

Chan also points out how following the global economic crisis, the situation has intensified as more complex and stringent regulations are imposed on banks and their staff. Such regulations, she explains, are sometimes cited by banking practitioners as considerations for leaving the industry. “To some, a career in banking may not be as attractive as before,” she says. 

Pressure on recruitment is also coming from other sectors such as insurance, non-banking financial services and even retail. Such sectors seek manpower with banking experience, Chan says. 

For instance, the insurance sector and other non-banking financial services. With more financial institutions established in recent years, talent war becomes more intense. Attracted by their service values and intensive staff training, bank employees are also a target for the retail sector. 

Despite the increasingly stringent regulatory environment and alternative career options, Chan believes a banking career is still attractive to many, especially graduates, “considering its well-established platforms, extensive business coverage and relatively competitive pay and benefits”.  

 She expects recruitment and retention to be widely discussed among delegates attending the HKIB Annual Banking Conference 2014. “Knowing what is happening in other companies and learning new or best practices is the key that drives employers towards their goal to be the ‘employer of choice’ within their industry,” she says. 

In a competitive recruitment environment, banks need more dynamic planning to identify and deal with issues such as attracting and nurturing staff, advancement and succession. For example, Chan says, traditional methods of recruitment through print and online channels are no longer sufficient to attract jobseekers. More innovative methods are needed to increase visibility and penetration into target groups, especially younger generations.  

Chan says there is an emerging trend towards i-recruitment, which uses social media. “Social media is not only economical, it also allows banks to be more proactive in sourcing suitable candidates from a vast pool within a short time frame.”  

With fresh graduates a rich source of talent, banks are looking for ways to begin engagement early through collaboration with local universities and education institutions. 

 “Attracting and grooming young talent is a critical and essential element in today’s banking business management,” Chan says, adding that organising career talks and company visits for college students is becoming a common feature of early engagement. 

Headhunters and staff referrals still remain effective recruitment tools, she adds. “Referrals usually produce a higher retention rate.”  

 Although salaries and bonuses are still important, non-monetary factors also affect recruitment and retention. Many banks are developing home-grown talent through internal recruiting, cross-country assignments, career-development programmes and effective succession management, Chan says. Work-life-balance schemes such as flexible work schedules, parental leave and other family-support practices are also increasingly being used.  

Chan says recruiting new talent cannot be limited to those with a degree related to banking and finance, or with banking experience. “Academic background is just one of the hardware considerations,” she says. “Candidates’ attitude and passion to start a career in the banking industry are also crucial when making hiring decisions.”  

Banks should provide sufficient on-the-job support, training and learning opportunities to hires without banking backgrounds, Chan says. To meet training needs, Chan notes how banks have established product specialists and advisory teams to provide more in-depth and specialised coaching and support to their sales people, as well as providing professional advice to their customers. 

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