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Hong Kong banks are crying out for project managers

Whether they are managing mergers, controlling costs, or planning expansions, project managers are in serious demand, but there’s simply not enough of them in either Hong Kong or Singapore.

Why PMs are so popular

“Demand for people with these skill sets is very strong for a combination of reasons. The mergers and acquisitions within financial services have required experienced people to manage these processes across all areas of the business from the front to back office,” comments Devi Kumar, manager banking and finance, Charterhouse Partnership.

Cost control is another key factor. The market no longer justifies making large-scale redundancies, but improving procedures and productivity can also help banks to make savings – and that’s where PMs come into play, adds Kumar.

Suan Wei Yeo, director, Profile Search & Selection, says PMs are now benefitting from banks expanding in Asia. “There is a need to increase capacity to support the growth in business across the region, but banks generally do not want to increase their cost-base at the same exponential rate as revenue, so change managers are in demand to help make systems more efficient.”

Why there’s a skill shortage

Firms prefer to hire experienced PMs, rather than bankers looking for a career change. And while there are plenty of PMs in Hong Kong, the sheer number and diversity of current banking-sector projects is creating a talent shortfall, comments Matthew Adamson, manager, WH Marks Sattin.

As Asia exerts a greater influence on global markets, projects that were once led from Europe or the US are increasingly being shifted to Singapore or Hong Kong. “This is important in understanding the skills shortfall here because people with experience of running these projects have traditionally been based in London or New York,” adds Adamson.

Yeo reckons some local PMs just don’t want to jump ship. “Good candidates who might have been affected during the financial crisis might be more reticent to move into a change role in another bank, unless there is significant upside, because of the risk/reward scenario.”

How banks are reacting

Recruitment of comparatively expensive overseas project managers for roles in Asia is becoming more common, reversing the anti-expat trend triggered by the GFC, says Adamson.

“Multiple offers, candidate buybacks and employee retention are starting to come into play as change professionals with leadership and influencing skills are being sought,” adds Yeo

And the high demand for PMs, especially those with product-specific knowledge, means that banks are boosting salaries by between 15 and 30 per cent this year, according to Kumar.

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