Sector's hiring set to ease off
"Front-office recruitment has been energised to compensate for the large number of layoffs made during the banking crisis. This has also led to mid-office and back-office infrastructure hiring to support front-office hiring. However, I don't think we can expect to see hiring remaining near the levels we have been experiencing," he says.
"There is a second hiring chapter in the banking sector. With new compliance rules being implemented thick and fast, because of regulatory changes brought about by the fallout from the financial crisis, we can expect to see demand for experienced product control, credit risk analyst, compliance and risk management talent to remain high."
Candidates with experience of compliance advisory work, operational risk and legal matters are especially sought after.
Walters also expects hiring in other financial sectors to remain active, including accounting where there is a demand for employees with strong technical skills and experience. As employers are recruiting from a small pool of talent, salary levels are expected to increase, with sign-on and guaranteed bonuses to become more commonplace in an effort to poach candidates.
Triggered by the region's rising wealth and the migration of financial activities from the West to the East, Hong Kong is seeing growing demand for bilingual Chinese nationals with a high-quality MBA and work experience outside Asia to bridge the gap and expand business lines.
"As the banking and finance fulcrum swings towards Asia, these people are like gold dust and I can only see the need for bilingual Chinese nationals to keep on growing. In fact, I believe demand is going to become insatiable," says Walters, who recently opened offices in Beijing and Shanghai to service the burgeoning mainland recruitment market.
While the demand for experienced banking and finance professionals remains high, the arduous approval processes can sometimes act as an impediment to employers' expansion and strategic business planning.
"I believe banks and finance have always had sufficiently stringent employee-checking procedures in place but, with additional background checking required, it can significantly slow down the recruitment and placement process," Walters says.
Matthew Bennett, managing director at Robert Walters Hong Kong, says after recovering from the financial crisis with surprising speed, banks have embarked on a hiring spree, driving up wages across the industry.
At the same time, many junior managers have developed unrealistic expectations regarding bonuses, Bennett says. Last year, with the financial tsunami still swirling through the banking industry, bonuses were paid out based on previous bonus structure.
"The entire salary and bonus package has changed completely. Base salaries have risen to compensate for lower bonuses, but there are still those who feel their bonuses should be handed to them as they were previously. This is quite clearly not going to happen and these professionals need to manage their expectations a little more realistically," Bennett says.
He says senior bank managers and executives have a better appreciation of the new system and understand that bonuses will probably be smaller and, depending on the financial institution, paid out over a period of time, perhaps three to four years.
In some cases, involving very senior managers and executives, cash bonuses have been virtually eliminated, with most rewards paid out in shares and other stock, whose vesting is staggered over a number of years so that, under certain circumstances, they can be withdrawn.
Bennett says banks are also looking for ways to build stronger employee loyalty and setting in place incentives designed to retain employees. He says an important part of attracting and retaining top-level employees is assuring them they are joining a stable organisation that is unlikely to present them with unwelcome surprises.
"Banks are hiring trainers to develop internal messages that highlight the organisations' strengths and encourage employee engagement," he says.
"Another important trend is the effort that banks are making to communicate more effectively with employees. Rather than talking about career development in a general way, they are working with employees so that they know where they are likely to be within the organisation in two to three years' time."