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Talent supply in the red as finance recovers

Published on Friday, 10 May 2013
Fermin Diez

With recruitment in the financial-services market steadily improving, employers around the globe are on pins and needles over losing their best and brightest to other opportunities, according to the latest survey by Robert Half.

The research, comprising feedback from 1,100 financial-services leaders from seven countries, also found that talent shortages are rife, particularly in Hong Kong.

While 89 per cent of respondents admitted that it was either somewhat or very challenging to find skilled financial-services professionals, in Hong Kong, this number rose to 95 per cent. Also in Hong Kong, 93 per cent of respondents were either somewhat or very concerned about losing top performers to other opportunities – 10 per cent higher than the global average.

Neil Owen, global practice director at Robert Half Financial Services, points out that regardless of the industry climate, core positions always need to be filled – which is tricky when there are talent shortages in key areas.

“Institutions around the world still need staff that can manage fundamental business needs, drive profitability and ensure compliance mandates are met. However, building a team with these skills has become increasingly difficult as firms face a market where the demand for skilled professionals often outweighs the supply,” he says.

Pallavi Anand, director at Robert Half Hong Kong, says the most in-demand of these skills were highlighted in findings from the separate Robert Half 2013 Financial Employment Report.

Professionals with accounting and finance skills are the most sought-after (65 per cent), with risk management (50 per cent), revenue generation (46 per cent) and compliance (37 per cent) also cited as key areas in demand.

“The talent shortage is particularly acute for risk and compliance professionals, who continue to be in high demand as companies navigate unprecedented regulatory shifts locally and globally while growing their core business,” Anand says.

John Mullally, associate director of financial services at Robert Walters, says that the costs of not having people in these key roles is very significant, and that employers are willing to pay over the odds to hold on to such specialists.

“The shortage of qualified and experienced professionals within these areas has manifested itself in employers offering such employees significantly increased counter-offers as and when such employees look to move to a competitor,” Mullally says.

However, Fermin Diez, Mercer’s Asia-Pacific talent business leader, suggests that there is not really a lack of skilled finance professionals at all, but a lack of ability in finding and keeping good employees.

“There is not necessarily a shortage of talent in the financial sector, but rather increased competition for available talent,” he says.

In light of this enhanced competition for talent, Anand says that employers looking to hire new staff or retain existing employees will need to enhance their appeal to employees, which means offering more than just an attractive salary.

“In such a competitive market, factors such as a clear career path, a commitment to work-life balance, and greater responsibilities and challenges will strongly influence individual career decisions and help firms attract and retain talent,” Anand says.

The importance of talent retention was also identified in the latest Hudson Report: Employment Trends, which found that retaining staff was the single biggest priority for HR departments in 2013, receiving 28.4 per cent of the vote.

“While the large-scale restructuring that has had an impact on a number of international banks here has largely passed, the impact on staff workloads and engagement will take some time to work through,” says Tony Pownall, general manager of Hudson Hong Kong. “This has led many companies to list staff retention as a major issue for 2013.”

Mullally explains that high-performing individuals need to be provided with a clear idea as to their career path within their firms and the opportunities that exist for them further down the line.

“Top performers want to know what is ahead for them. Companies also need to give them opportunities to work across multiple functions and in different areas and geographies of the business to keep them engaged and committed,” Mullally says.

He adds that in order to deal with staff shortages, some firms are starting to utilise more flexible staffing approaches, such as looking outside of the traditional candidate recruitment pool or using consultancy firms to provide talent on a short- to medium-term contract basis.

Diez has also noticed some uncommon employment tactics being used, noting that the best employers are those which take the time to build fully developed value propositions for their staff.

“One particular approach that works well is to segment the top 10 to 20 per cent of the population as ‘high potential’ and provide improved pay and accelerated opportunities based on that,” he says.

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