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Talent gap hits finance sector

Published on Friday, 20 Aug 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
The sun is shining on the top talent in the financial services sector, as they weigh up multiple job offers and become much choosier about the packages on offer from firms facing a severe skills shortage.
Photo: Bloomberg

Since the end of last year, employers in Hong Kong have been consistently increasing headcounts in the banking and finance sector, and in other industries.

While recruitment activity within the finance sector was very quiet during the early part of last year, it has picked up by almost 50 per cent since the end of last year, and the positive trend continues.

This is great news for the job market, but some industry experts say Hong Kong's financial services industry is facing a severe talent shortage as banks vie to grab a bigger slice of the Chinese market. "The boom in the economy has opened up many job avenues, but there is a clear shortage of people with the right kind of skills for finance jobs," says Swapna Reddy, senior consultant for banking and financial services, at Links Recruitment.

Employers have become more specific about the combination of skill sets they are looking for, she says. They are not only seeking technical capabilities, but are also holding out for people who possess additional qualities that will help drive their organisations forward.

Segments of the industry that are feeling the heat include audit and compliance, product control, technology and projects, and change management, she says.

The shortage is largely in terms of high-quality talent, says Ambition's Amy Ho, associate director for banking and financial services recruitment. Combined with the shortage of people with strong product specialisation, it means employers now tend to look at the overseas talent pool at this level.

Hong Kong's shortage of talent is greater than in other locations because it is less open to overseas candidates at less senior levels than, for example, Singapore, Ho adds. "They believe there's a pool of talent in Hong Kong at a junior and middle level, but this is a mindset they will have to change as there are lots of [overseas] candidates willing to come to work here."

Another knock-on effect of the talent shortage is that the majority of quality candidates who lost their jobs last year managed to get good offers early this year. "This resulted in slowly turning the market dynamics from employer-driven to employee-driven," Reddy says, adding that employers therefore have less choice and are taking steps to minimise the impact of future skills shortages.

For candidates, particularly top talent, this means they have greater power. "In general, candidates are getting choosy and want to evaluate any job vacancy from all intrinsic and extrinsic factors," Reddy says. "Recently, we have recognised the trend of multiple offers again taking place for top talent."

As salaries are usually matched across large financial services firms, some employers focus on what candidates are looking for as a whole package. These range from job responsibilities to the company's reputation or brand image, work-life balance and career progression prospects, Reddy says.


  • Be realistic about your experience, assess your strengths, and set the right target
  • Don't job-hop
  • Banks are usually not keen on candidates who want to make a career change and seek an entirely new function; to do so, start with a contract or temporary job to get your foot in the door
  • There may well be a talent war, but don't be too demanding as this could be detrimental

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