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Recruiters weigh value and cost

Published on Friday, 25 May 2012
Hong Kong commuters emerge from the subway into another wobbly working day in Central.
Photo: Bloomberg
Tony Pownall
Marc Burrage
Christopher Jackson

Uncertainty remains the maxim in the banking and finance industry as turmoil in the euro zone and instability in the financial markets have created challenges at all levels.

Tony Pownall, Hong Kong general manager at talent management and recruitment firm Hudson, says that as banks and finance organisations navigate a world of uncertainty, they need to keep a close watch on their recruitment needs and practices.

Along with other sectors, Pownall says that over the next 12 months, banks and financial firms face a stringent test to recruit the people they need. "With Hong Kong's unemployment rate lower than for some time, banks must identify critical roles they need to fill, align these with business planning and set recruitment plans in motion," says Pownall.

The new Hudson Salary and Insight report out this week says a lesson many organisations are learning - at a time when 46 per cent of hires in Hong Kong are described as bad or average - is that sometimes the wrong hire can cost them most dearly.

"Along with volatility and uncertainty, the challenge for organisations is not simply to stick to hiring budgets, but to maximise the value achieved from investment in human capital," says Pownall, who believes that employers often focus too much on experience and overlook other skills and behaviour competencies.

Pownall says that when recruiting, employers wishing to reduce investment risk must distinguish between value and cost. "Equally important to experience is the right attitude and behaviour, or if you like, the want-to, the can-do and the know-how," he says. Too often, employers look at know-how safe hires because they want people they don't need to spend a long time training and who can move up to speed quickly.

"If employers look more closely at 'what drives them', 'why do they enjoy the business', 'what inspires their appetite', they are more likely to invest in future high-performing staff," says Pownall.

Marc Burrage, regional director at Hays in Hong Kong, says that despite uncertainty in the banking sector there is still demand for experienced candidates in investment research, private equity and corporate banking. Experienced professionals are in demand to sell funds.

"Employers are looking for high quality but affordable talent and they are not willing to pay premium salaries. This makes it challenging to attract the best-suited candidates," says Burrage.

To meet recruitment needs, Burrage says employers are turning to candidates from the "Big Four" accounting firms. "To generate interest, many sell career progression as an incentive to attract candidates looking to build a career in the industry," he says.

Driven by tighter banking regulations and a rise in regulatory returns, candidates with Basel III knowledge are in demand. Also popular are regulatory candidates with expertise in full-set Hong Kong Monetary Association banking returns at both preparer level (three to five years' experience) and reviewer level and above (five years or more).

Christopher Jackson, Hudson (Hong Kong) senior consultant for risk and finance, says the industry offers many attractions.

"Provided job candidates are not simply thinking about the salary, the banking profession offers excellent job opportunities for hardworking finance graduates and experienced professionals ready to face the challenges of globalisation and consolidation," says Jackson.

He says that while some banks are outsourcing processing operations from Hong Kong, others are centralising regional functions, creating headcount and contract roles. Greater regulation stringency is creating demand for risk and compliance professionals.

With recruitment limited to a small talent pool, consultant firms want to hire the same people. In the past, demand might have been expected to translate into a bidding war, but this is not so.

"Banks need to strengthen their risk and compliance team, but keep one eye on costs," says Jackson, adding that to remain attractive, they highlight incentives and flexible compensation packages.

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