Career Advice Expert Advice

'Risk' is no four-letter word now

With many of the devastating financial calamities that have swept through the global economic markets blamed on over-zealous risk-taking, market professionals have largely shied away from the four-letter word in recent years. 

That is until now, when the appetite for risk is edging its way back into the finance sector – especially in Hong Kong.

In a recent global survey of chief finance officers and financial directors by specialised financial recruitment firm Robert Half, more than a quarter of respondents based in Hong Kong consider “risk-taking” the most important factor contributing  to a financial professional’s success.

Hong Kong is the only financial centre globally where “risk-taking” ranks as the top attribute. This is closely followed by other capabilities, including leadership  – 20 per cent – and a competitive nature, which scored 19 per cent.

Elsewhere, finance leaders on mainland China, Germany, and Belgium cited strong technical or  analytical skills as the most important attribute, while for their counterparts in Luxembourg and Singapore, leadership comes top.

Pallavi Anand, director at Robert Half Hong Kong, says risk-taking comprises the willingness and ability to take calculated risks to improve economic and organisational performance.

“While strong technical and analytical skills remain important, an accounting and finance candidate who wants to stand out from the crowd in Hong Kong needs to demonstrate the necessary industry knowledge and business acumen to take risks and make sound commercial decisions,” says Anand.

Due to demand in the employment market, Anand says that there are candidates who recognise the importance of acquiring and developing risk-management skills.

However, according to Anand, while learning institutions offer  education in accounting, banking and finance, many programmes fail to cover risk-management and related issues.

Meanwhile, as Hong Kong continues to thrive as a world-class financial and business hub, more companies are seeking talented banking and financial professionals to help them identify opportunities, as well as assess and manage risks.

Beijing’s policy on overseas investment, which also helps funds flow into Hong Kong, is creating an expanding demand for risk professionals.

Banks and financial organisations are putting more emphasis on risk-monitoring and internal controls due to business growth and  lessons learned from the financial crisis.

“As a result, we are seeing robust recruitment activity in the areas of market, credit  and operational risk, internal audit, compliance and anti-money laundering,” says Anand.

She adds that current and prospective employees who are able to add value and advise potential risks to the company’s profitability or the existence of the company itself will not only be an asset to employers, but also be offered generous remuneration packages. “Their insights and efforts in avoiding, reducing and transferring risks can help their company to maintain steady growth during unstable or challenging economic conditions and empower better management decisions,” Anand says.

A  report released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) which examines the rising importance of risk-management, highlights the various human and business perspectives that involve risk associated with operations on mainland China. 

These include failure to align human resource strategies with the local environment, difficulties in recruiting and  retaining talent due to limited resources, and the potential for management power to reside among a few executives, making them indispensible.

Keith Stephenson, PwC Hong Kong risk and controls solutions partner, and one of the report’s authors, says internal auditors and auditors working for external firms such as PwC can play a key role in identifying and mitigating areas where risks are likely.

“With risk-management, corporate governance and internal controls on  every board’s agenda, this is probably the best time ever to be an auditor,” says Stephenson.

But with demand for auditors in Asia at an all-time high, Stephenson cautions that young talent frequently moving between organisations to chase salary and titles could be missing miss out on the opportunity to develop in-depth experience.

“If young people stayed with one employer for four or five years, they could find they learn a lot more. There is no stopping where these people can take their careers,” Stephenson says