In the third and final part of our report from the eFinancialCareers recruitment roundtable in Hong Kong, we examine a variety of different topics affecting the employment market, from bonus guarantees to applicants overseas.
The panel of senior in-house HR professionals at leading international banks agreed that there are plenty of external candidates in the West who are clamouring to get into Hong Kong. But although they stand more chance of success than during the GFC, banks still prefer to make internal transfers or hire Asian returnees.
“We are constantly bombarded with emails, but if you’ve never worked for us or never worked in Asia, you are much less likely to find work,” said one roundtable delegate, all of whom asked not to be named in this report.
Another attendee described the 2006/2007 crop of expats as “lucky” and said her bank now only offers full expat packages (complete with cars, school fees etc) for roles which report directly to the CEO.
Hong Kong’s low tax rates should provide enough of an extra incentive for foreign candidates, she added. “Plus there is more local talent available now, and banks want local talent.”
However, it’s a different story for senior expat bankers who have already been receiving lavish deals for several years. “If you don’t offer to match their package, they’ll just choose to stay put in their current role. It’s hard to break the cycle.”
Tell me why you’re out of work
Despite skill shortages in sectors such as product control, IT and compliance, banking professionals who were made redundant during the GFC aren’t simply walking back into their old roles.
“There’s still some stigma about being unemployed. If you did nothing while you were out of work, it will be tough for you now. If you did something, then it shows at least that you’re proactive,” remarked one roundtable panelist.
Your chances of success also depend on the extent to which you can be blamed for your own layoff. “We always get line managers to check the reasons for redundancy.”
Another delegate commented: “I’ve been surprised to still be receiving so many CVs from unemployed people. We’ve had conversations and made some hires. The challenge is how to price these candidates, if they are still asking for 30 per cent pay rises. You don’t want to overpay, but you don’t want to pay too little and risk losing them to competitors. ”
The attendees talked about the differences between the use of guaranteed bonuses in private banking and investment banking. In the latter, unconditional guarantees are common, especially at a senior level. However, private banks often offer conditional guarantees, which depend on hitting AUM and revenue targets.
“It can take 18 to 24 month to start generating profits for a private bank, so the firm doesn’t want to unconditionally load too much money at the front end of someone’s employment, especially when many private bankers move firms every two or three years. It’s a dynamic recruitment market, but there is a wage bubble building up,” explained one panelist.
The discussion regarding recruiters was decidedly negative. “The agencies in Hong Kong are still miles behind London. The market is less information-driven here. It’s a less specialist, more contingent approach.”
Another roundtable delegate added: “Overall, the recruitment industry is very poor in Hong Kong. When a new manager at my bank moved to Asia and had to deal with recruiters here he was shocked. But when you find a good person it’s important to hold onto them.”
All attendees bemoaned the fact that recruiters change firms too frequently, and their knowledge goes with them because the contract remains with their old company.
A representative of one bank, which does 92 per cent of its sourcing itself (via staff referrals and direct recruitment) commented: “cost is not the key driver why we do this, it’s the fact that we can own the process.”
“Everyone in our direct sourcing team comes from an executive search/headhunting background. The feedback we get from candidates is ‘wow, I can’t believe we got called back by a bank directly’,” he added.