Hiring dips as revenue falls
Looking at the hard data, it is reasonable to infer that it will be some time before investment banks go on a hiring frenzy. Global investment banking revenue has fallen for the second consecutive quarter to US$17.6 billion in Q2 2013 - compared with US$18.4 billion in Q1 2013 and US$19.6 billion in Q4 2012 - according to figures from The Wall Street Journal and Dealogic.
Asia fares even worse. Total investment banking revenue has been on a steady decline in past quarters, dropping to US$2.8 billion in Q2 2013 from US$3.5 billion in Q3 2012.
Yet the overall industry sentiment somehow defies the gloomy figures. In the latest report on employment trends from recruiters Hudson, 52.9 per cent of surveyed companies in the banking and financial services sector revealed intentions to increase headcount in the third quarter of this year. This is more than the previous quarter (48 per cent) and almost double that recorded in this year's first quarter (27.3 per cent).
Tony Pownall, general manager of Hudson Hong Kong, interprets the finding as the banks' way of saying the marketplace has somewhat stabilised. "Most of the downsizing has happened and they're now plugging those gaps that may have resulted from that downsizing," he says. "They're shoring up to make sure that business processes run smoothly."
In a separate survey conducted by Robert Half Hong Kong, 41 per cent of banking and financial services senior business leaders in the city indicated that they expect to add new permanent financial services staff in the third quarter. Pallavi Anand, director of Robert Half Hong Kong, says finance and accounting professionals will be in high demand, as indicated by 74 per cent of respondents.
Out of the 300 senior leaders, CFOs and finance directors surveyed by Robert Half, 82 per cent are optimistic about their firms' growth prospects and 84 per cent are confident on economic growth.
There remains, though, a strong reluctance in the market to overpay. Brien Keegan, director and general manager of Randstad Hong Kong, says organisations are trying to hit a balance by being very specific in terms of what they look for in candidates. "Without flexibility, the consequence of that is paying high wages and high salary," he says.