Compliance hiring at banks in Hong Kong is not what it once was. As we reported in September, recruitment rates in the function have fallen by about 25% in just two years as contracts run out, banks focus on specialist roles and technology takes over jobs.
But there’s a way to beat the downturn: get a stint at a regulator on your resume. As the job market moves in their favour, banks can now afford to be more selective when hiring, and they are increasingly demanding compliance candidates who have regulator experience.
“I’ve seen numerous examples in Hong Kong this year of people being hired from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and Securities and Futures Commission, in particular from their enforcement, intermediary supervision, and banking conduct teams,” says Richard Fennelly, a director at recruiters Hartwell Buck in Hong Kong.
They typically go into banks’ regulatory compliance teams at AVP or VP level, says Fennelly. “They’re very familiar with all the latest regulations and know what the regulators require,” he adds.
Former regulator staff can also be found in compliance risk assessment, central compliance and anti-money laundering teams, says Winnie Leung, director of regional compliance at Pure Search in Hong Kong.
“They end up doing exactly the same thing, but on the other side of the table,” says Leung, adding that Hong Kong banks sometimes hire from international regulators such as the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and the China Securities Regulatory Commission.
Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered are among the largest recruiters from local and global regulators, say headhunters. Their hiring efforts have been largely successful. While joining a bank is often seen as a second-best option in technology, it’s typically the ideal career choice in compliance.
“About 80% of people at regulators stay there for a maximum of two years,” says Pathay Singh, managing director of recruiters Compliance Grid in Hong Kong. “That’s enough time to understand the culture and view things from a regulator’s perspective,” he adds. “Then they’re usually itching to get back to the ‘real world’ of a bank, where they can progress their careers more quickly and not be bogged down in red tape.”
“The pace of the work and the promotion opportunities are better at banks,” says Leung from Pure Search. “And some people just like the culture at a bank more, because all employees are working towards the same goal. In a regulator, once you get to a certain seniority level, the job gets repetitive.”
“One of the biggest attractions of a bank over a regulator is the exposure to global markets and the interaction with people globally. You’re not purely focused on Hong Kong,” says Fennelly from Hartwell Buck. “Working in an international bank can also lead to overseas secondments and relocations.”
Money, though, is not a big motivator. Last year the SFC paid its 850 staff an average of HK$1.3m (US$166k) in compensation, according to CEIC data. That’s similar to AVP and VP-level compliance jobs in Hong Kong banking. “Regulator pay scales have shot up significantly over the last five years,” says Singh. “It’s now as financially attractive to work at the regulator as it is working for a bank. Base pay increases when moving from a regulator to a bank are on par with bank-to-bank moves.”
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