The hottest job in Hong Kong banking doesn’t even come with a big pay rise

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The hottest job in Hong Kong banking doesn’t even come with a big pay rise

Hong Kong’s newly-minted virtual banks are in the midst of a hiring spree that will see them take on scores of staff across technology, strategy and governance. But don’t expect a pay rise if you join one of the four businesses, which won regulatory approval in March and April and are led or run by Standard Chartered, Bank of China, WeLab and ZhongAn. 

Despite local talent shortages, jobs at the online-only banks are proving so attractive that most candidates are landing pay rises of just 10% to 15%, a standard level for most finance-sector roles, say recruiters. VP data analysts at traditional banks earn HK$900k a year on average, according to an aggregate salary survey, so their increments would only come to about HK$135k at best.

“It’s a candidate-short market, but we still don’t see big pay increases, mainly because these firms are targeting people who believe in virtual banking being the future for banking,” says Winnie Leung, an executive director at Pure Search in Hong Kong. “The jobs are giving them a chance to be pioneers,” she adds.

The four virtual banks, which are expected to launch in the next five to eight months, present a “new set of challenges” for technologists, recruiter Scott Townend told us previously. “Their jobs will no longer be about building, maintaining and improving the tech infrastructure that traditional banks currently have. Their roles will instead reflect the shift toward data management, analytics and cloud service.”

More specifically, technology vacancies at virtual banks in Hong Kong are focusing on fields such as robo advisory, chatbots, application development, front-end development, and blockchain engineering, says Townend. Virtual banks also need “marketing tech” (i.e. data analytics, customer experience and customer loyalty) staff.

Standard Chartered alone has 32 virtual banking job vacancies on its website, many of them in technology, including a DevSecOps engineer, UX designer, lead backend developer, and scrum master. SC Digital Solutions, as the unit is called, already has a 100-strong team, according to Bloomberg. WeLab wants to double its Hong Kong headcount to 200 over the next year, while ZhongAn’s unit has about 100 staff but it hasn’t set a hiring target.

Virtual banks in Hong Kong also need senior technologists who’ve worked in management and “policy setting” roles, says Leung from Pure. “Because they’re at the setting-up stage, an ability to see the big picture and formulate strategy is key”. Stan Chart has made several such senior hires, including Andrew Farmer from Commonwealth Bank as chief information officer, and Chris Ashe from UK-based Tandem Money as head of engineering.

Technologists aren’t the only people in demand. “In the short term, virtual banks are looking for CFOs, and compliance and audit professionals,” says Gin Sun, an associate director at recruiters Michael Page in Hong Kong. “In the longer term, product developers and sales people will be needed.”

Not all virtual banks are created equal. Those led by the established brands of Standard Chartered and Bank of China are “slightly more appealing to most candidates”, partly because their corporate benefits (e.g. pension plans and, annual leave allowances) tend to be better, says Leung. But WeLab and ZhongAn have their attractions. “Some of the very senior candidates would rather start from ground zero – they feel it’s better to start fresh without legacy issues,” she adds.

Expect even more virtual banking jobs to open soon. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is still processing the applications of four more candidates this year, among a final eight shortlisted among 33 original applicants. The 2019 cohort will be allowed to operate for about a year before yet more licences are given out.

Image credit: Nikada, Getty

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