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Guest Comment: A snapshot of Korea’s burgeoning financial sector

Some hiring demand here

Some hiring demand here

The international financial services industry in Korea is an integral part of the wider region, with many well-known banks, securities companies and asset managers represented.

While it is not as prominent as other major regional hubs, such as Singapore or Hong Kong, it is being more closely watched by regional and global management due to the increased prominence of the Korean economy.

The economy, while having a history of volatility, has proven to be resilient in recent years. It has held up comparatively well during the recent economic crisis. While the financial industry was adversely affected, it was not as badly hit as some other major Asian markets.

Limited hiring

However, in line with global trends, financial hiring has been quite limited over the past few years, with many companies having little or no headcount growth. Recruitment has largely resulted from natural attrition and from the selective upgrading of existing talent.

Who’s wanted

Jobs that are the most in demand this year include accountants with strong financial analysis skills, project finance experience and a track record working within a regional team. This has generally been as a result of regional projects, including system upgrades and transformations, streamlining business processes and transactional work resulting from specific investments.

Other sought-after roles include credit analysts at the junior to mid-management level. Due to the reluctance in adding permanent headcount, even for higher performing business units, I have seen an increase in the use of contract employees to bolster finance teams, generally for periods of three to 12 months.

Overseas experience may only help if you’re Korean

Candidates with strong communication skills, an international mindset and global experience are especially sought after. However, for the vast majority of roles, Korean nationals with native-level Korean language skills and fluent English are preferred, and those with related overseas work experience or education are at an advantage.

Jobs for expatriates and non-Korean speakers are extremely limited. One notable trend, however, has been the move by many companies to become more integrated with their regional offices. This has seen an increase in Korean employees being seconded or offered overseas opportunities within their organisations.

The money factor

Salaries within Korea’s finance sector are on average lower than other developed financial hubs in the region, generally by 15 to 25 per cent. As with the salaries of many other professions in Korea, there has been a move to parity over the past decade and the gap is expected to narrow further in the future. Historically, Korean salaries are generally linked to seniority and length of service, however, in recent years there has been a strong trend toward performance-related compensation.

Female power

One notable aspect of the international financial services industry in Korea is the participation level of women in the workforce. This is at significantly higher levels than for other industries. It is particularly noticeable within functions such as accounting, finance and operations.

While there is a great deal of uncertainty within the industry globally, there still remain some opportunities for talented professionals within the industry in Korea. Bilingual, mid-career professionals, with exceptional communication skills, strong managerial potential and an international mindset, are still sought for many functions within the industry. As Korea continues to internationalise, we expect the demand for this type of profile to continue to grow.

Anthony Modrich, country manager, Robert Walters Korea

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