Shift from pay to career sweeteners
Given continuing fallout from the financial crisis and some of the banking sector's self-inflicted woes, it is no surprise that roles linked to compliance and risk management remain a key area for recruitment.
"Companies are still stepping up their focus on regulation," says Mark Enticott, managing director of Ambition in Hong Kong. "As we move through the second half of 2012, investment banks in particular will remain very focused on costs, so we don't see any overall growth in hiring in the banking sector."
These views are supported by findings from the firm's own Market Trends and Salary Report, which surveyed prospects for the second half. It confirmed that uncertainties in Europe, volatility in world markets and clear signs of a slowdown in China are all weighing on sentiment. As a result, financial institutions in Hong Kong are cautious about anything other than risk-related and replacement hires.
Job candidates have also had to temper expectations accordingly regarding salaries, bonuses and added extras. "Banks, for example, won't pay signing-on bonuses unless it is a really critical hire," Enticott says.
Employees and candidates hoping that last year's lower salary increments and bonus "shortfall" were a one-off have had to think again.
In the current environment, employers are putting much more emphasis on opportunities for career and personal development. These are seen as key factors in attracting and retaining staff, rather than just monetary rewards.
While the shift in focus can make it harder to figure out "market rates" for certain roles, it is a development that makes broad sense in the longer term.
After a first half which was stable at best, Enticott expects only limited recruitment activity in the banking and finance sector over the next few months.
"In general, people will be reluctant to move. They will be unwilling to forgo any bonus coming at year-end, so are unlikely to look for something new," he says.
For Paul Hanley, director and head of the Shanghai office for Robert Walters China, things look somewhat different. Mainland-based bankers moving to new employers still view a pay increase of 10 to 20 per cent to be on the low side. In the Shanghai market, average salary increments for individuals with the required skills and experience have been closer to 30 per cent.
"The mentality in China is changing to a degree, edging towards more interest in career development rather than just cash, but there is some way to go," Hanley says. "Staff retention is the biggest problem facing employers today."