Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Though shaken, finance and trade start to stir

With every new year comes fresh feelings of hopefulness. In the financial and commercial worlds, this positivity equates to anticipative business and economic confidence – a fact reflected by Robert Half’s latest Financial Employment Report.

The survey, which provides hiring projections for the first quarter of 2013, revealed that 33 per cent of banking and financial services firms, and 39 per cent of commerce and industry companies, plan to expand headcount in the first part of the year.

“Our survey indicates that companies are optimistic about their growth prospects, and many are cautiously adding new headcount as we enter 2013,” says Pallavi Anand, director of Robert Half Hong Kong.

Collecting the views of 150 senior financial services leaders and 150 CFOs and finance directors in Hong Kong, the survey also found that almost half of all financial services and commercial firms plan to maintain their current headcount, while only a small number plan to cut staff levels.

This optimism correlates with the high percentage of companies that showed confidence in Hong Kong’s growth prospects, as well as their own.

“The business and financial leaders that we conducted this survey with continue to have quite a confident outlook for business and the economy in Hong Kong,” Anand says.

She adds, however, that this is optimism supplemented with a fair dose of caution, as most of the confidence comes from the fact that these firms can see stability in comparison to last year.

“If you compare 2012 to 2011 there were drastic changes, and that is why there was not much confidence last year. But this year, as a result of recent stability, there is slightly more optimism – though it is still cautious optimism,” she says.

Tony Pownall, general manager of Hudson Hong Kong, is seeing similar results. He says firms are moving into 2013 with the same confidence as the last quarter of 2012, and he expects it to last throughout the year.

“According to the latest Hudson survey, factually, across the board in Hong Kong, 37 per cent of employers expect to increase headcount, and throughout the year there could be a gradual tick upwards in the confidence to hire,” Pownall says.

Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong, is also witnessing more activity across all sectors than in the same period last year, which he says bodes well for the rest of this year.

“We are seeing more employers willing to hire or sponsor qualified overseas candidates in skill-short areas. This is certainly up from 2012, while many more are now using flexible staffing approaches than in the past 12 months. We expect the use of these workers to increase over the next year,” he says.

Back at Robert Half, the areas reported as most in demand by Hong Kong financial services leaders and finance directors were accounting and finance, risk management, revenue generation, and compliance. In the commercial sector, accounting, credit analysis, cost accounting, financial planning, and compliance and risk were reported as being the areas hardest to fill.

Anand points out that a need for treasury and cash-flow roles in the commercial sector has been generated by industry stability and a focus on process improvement and streamlining. Meanwhile, the demand from financial services for staff in operational areas is the upshot of new banking regulations that are coming into effect.

Sharmani Thomas, a regional director of Michael Page in Hong Kong, says that demand is rising in the compliance and risk area because of regulatory framework changes. The company has also felt the jump in optimism and reports 35 per cent more hiring activity in the banking and financial services sector than in January 2012.

However, as Thomas says: “Every year starts off with optimism, because people want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The bankers go out, the CEOs go out, and everyone wants to believe this year is going to be better than the last. It is human nature.”