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Deluded Asian bankers still asking for big pay rises

pay rises

I recruit in-house for a big US bank in Singapore. You may think that recent job cuts and bonus cuts would have made candidates applying to firms like mine a little less aggressive when trying to negotiate new pay packages.

But in fact, there are still too many people in Asia who are pushing us too hard on pay after receiving their job offers.

Generally, this no longer works because banks hold the upper hand in the job market in Singapore and Hong Kong. Here’s my realistic guide to negotiating your compensation in early 2017.

Don’t haggle like it’s 2007

It’s best to forget the “25% increase on your base” discussion that used to be popular in Asia. For example, salaries have remained relatively flat in Singapore over the past two years as the city state has now well and truly outgrown its former status as a ‘low-cost location’ for banks. Instead of plucking a big salary rise out of the air, get an idea of your own market worth by reviewing recent salary surveys and speaking with a reputable recruitment consultant who has been on the ground in Singapore for a few years.

Don’t wait to divulge your comp

Make sure you have your previous three years total compensation numbers on hand – these days banks will look that far back. They will also want your full total compensation breakdown, including not just your base salary and bonus, but benefits such as health insurance. And it’s crucial to get this information correct upfront to avoid confusion at the offer stage.

Shop around at your peril

Tucking an offer under your arm and trying to use it to negotiate with a rival bank is a dangerous practice in 2017. Now more than ever, we are seeing deadlines put on job offers and employers are sticking to them. If they get the feeling you are using their offer as leverage, they may move onto the next candidate, leaving you stranded.

Don’t hold out for more

Markets like Singapore and Hong Kong are no longer experiencing the strong shortage of banking talent that we saw earlier this decade. This year, employers in Asia seem to have a back-up candidate ready if you become too demanding when it’s time to sign the contract. Holding out in the hope that the bank’s budget will be magically increased by 10% is no longer a good move – the job market is simply too competitive.

Be easy to deal with

Salary negotiations can be tricky as your emotions might already be running high after weeks or months of interviews. The best way to get a positive result is to communicate clearly with your potential employer. If you’re difficult to contact during the negotiations, it can give the impression that you are not interested in the opportunity. If you need some time to think about the offer, be specific about the exact number of days or hours, and don’t keep them waiting any longer.

In the following situations, don’t even negotiate

If you are moving jobs because you feel that your current position may be offshored to a lower-cost location, or because you are moving to the buy side, don’t expect a pay raise.

The author has been recruiting for the banking industry in Asia – in both agencies and in-house – for more than 10 years.


Image credit: Nikada, Getty

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