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First shots fired in talent war

Published on Friday, 27 Aug 2010
The banking and finance sectors have recovered to peak levels over the last six months.
Photo: Bloomberg

The war for talent is raging once again in Hong Kong - and the banking and finance industry is right smack in the middle of it. "The industry, in general, has recovered to peak levels over the last six months and we are seeing the first signs of skill shortages," says Emma Charnock, regional director at recruitment firm Hays in Hong Kong and China.

"Things are going back to normal compared to a year ago," says Lieven Debruyne, CEO of investment management firm Schroders Hong Kong, and regional head of the company's retail business in Asia.

Recruitment is increasing because companies such as Schroders are expanding and more foreign companies are coming into the region to set up business.

"We are growing - we are part of the growth region," Debruyne says. "Obviously, there is a need for more people. This is true for the industry as a whole. There are a lot of opportunities if you want to work in this industry."

According to Charnock, her firm is seeing a lot of the shortage of talent within the specialist front-office area in investment banks, particularly within the legal and insurance fields.

"There is a huge demand for people. Job candidates are receiving multiple offers. There is a bidding war," she says.

"There are many opportunities opening and, needless to say, the balance of power is swinging back to the employee."

Therefore, there has been an upward pressure on pay packages. The growing demand for talent has driven base salaries up by about 15 per cent, Charnock notes. In addition, allowances have crept back into the Hong Kong market.

Companies are seeing the return of allowances, which are packaged differently from bonuses, and include housing allowances, relocation allowances and schooling allowances.

While many companies in the financial sector reduced or even completely eliminated allowances over the past couple of years during the global financial crisis, these allowances are now becoming integral parts of employee remuneration packages again.

"There is a good sense in Hong Kong that the financial crisis is behind us," Charnock says. "Our clients have become less cautious in terms of hiring people."

The headhunting firm has seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of jobs being registered with it in the last quarter, solely in the financial sector. Schroders, too, is hiring across the board this year and the next.

"At the lower levels, it is still fairly easy to find people, but for senior positions there is not a great well of talent," Debruyne says.

The firm considers itself to be in a very privileged position as a company.

"We are one of the largest and most successful companies. We have a very strong brand and have been in Hong Kong for 40 years.

It is easier for us to attract talent than for others in the industry," Debruyne says.

Hays' recruitment strategy has been to scour overseas markets for talent.

This has worked out well for the headhunter because many of these economies are still down in the dumps.

"We have looked at the overseas communities in countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia," Charnock says. "And we have been getting a lot of interest from people wanting to return to Hong Kong. Overseas talent is a key strategy for us in winning the war on talent."

According to Charnock, recent changes in regulations have made candidates with experience in international financial reporting standards highly sought after in the accountancy and finance sectors.

Candidates with skills in product control, specifically equity derivatives, are also in great demand. Within banking, mergers and acquisition activity has been on the rise, creating demand for corporate finance advisory candidates, from analyst all the way to managing director level, but with mainland transaction experience, she says.

Meanwhile, investors are still generally cautious, preferring safer bond products to riskier equities. Even so, they have been investing more money into financial products over the past year.

"If you look at fund flows, investments have gone up over the year, with sales up in the first half of this year compared to 2009," Debruyne says.

"The money has been coming in at a much higher level, although it is mostly in bond funds rather than equities."

 


Skills gap  

  • The banking and finance sectors are seeing the first signs of skill shortages
  • Companies are expanding and recruiting staff. Hong Kong is part of the growth region
  • Candidates are receiving multiple job offers and there is a bidding war
  • Balance of power has swung back to the employee
  • Base salaries have risen by about 15 per cent
  • Allowances have crept back into remuneration packages in Hong Kong
  • Companies have a sense that the global financial crisis is now behind us
  • Investors are still putting their money into safer bond products rather than riskier equities

 

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