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The tough job of being a recruiter in a bank in Asia

The Auditor

In this article, part two of three stemming from the eFinancialCareers bi-annual roundtable in Hong Kong for recruiters from leading international banks, we look at some of the changes that occurred in the recruiting environment in Asia over the past year.

Hong Kong-based recruiters from some of the world’s leading banks said last week that hiring had become more challenging over the past year, thanks to ever-more stringent compliance requirements, directives for more rigorous background checks, and lengthy pre-approval processes.

The bank recruiters said that their workload continued to increase, with more pressure to hire and retain junior level staff through direct sourcing channels. This had been helped, however, by strategic use of technology and social media. Nonetheless, junior hires required a lot more time than previously.

Senior candidates still preferred to use the headhunter channel, with a number of the bank recruiters present saying that VPs, MDs and above liked to retain an arm’s length role in the process to avoid the impression they were looking for a job.

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Many of the banks present at the roundtable were actively recruiting young Asian graduates at universities abroad, with one bank commenting that it had received a strong response from potential candidates wanting to return and work in Asian markets.

Many of the banks said, however, that they struggled with getting Asian staff to rotate to other markets, even within the Asia-Pacific region, let alone to operations in Europe and the US.

Family responsibilities were cited as one reason for Asians being reluctant to go on international rotations, as many lived in extended family environments and cared for elderly relatives.

In addition, the high personal tax regimes in other parts of the world relative to Hong Kong was seen as a major deterrent, while some banks with a home base in countries like France and Germany said their national languages posed a challenge for Asians on rotation.

The debate also focused on cultural issues, and why it was sometimes easier to hire a foreign national from Europe or the US. Some of the bank recruiters pointed out that many Asian cultures did not encourage people to ‘speak up’, unlike their counterparts in North America, Europe or Australia, who tended to be more vocal about their ambitions. As a result, many Asians were overlooked for promotion – and often because they had not voiced an interest or inclination.

With the pressure growing on the banks to hire more Asians, recruiters said it was becoming more difficult to choose between locals and foreigners with solid exposure and experience in Asia’s various markets. In addition, many were having difficulty recruiting locals in countries that were just opening up to the global banks due to the extreme scarcity of solid banking skills and international capital markets experience.

In the final installment, Hong Kong’s bank recruiters will discuss their outlook for hiring in 2014.

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