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Overseas and unemployed candidates don't have many reasons to be cheerful in Hong Kong

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.

Click here and here if you haven't read the first two articles.

Expat anxieties

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.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager
  • se
    search consultant
    29 October 2010

    Internal recruitment for mid to junior levels perhaps offers a fair service to the business using internet tools and name gathering. Not sure how comfortable a top flight leader/Director to MD level person would be if an internal recruiter from a bank called to headhunt them. In my experience of search at senior levels is a delicate process and perhaps one could say the internal recruiters may have the best interests of the bank at heart? The candidate needs to know he is getting a balanced view/service from the recruiter, that you are protecting him/her and partnering with them to improve their career. I am mindful of the fact that without the offer or acceptance there is no close and thus in my eyes both parties are clients. It must be a difficult role to execute when you can only offer your client (meaning the candidate) 1 bank as a career option, I take my hat off to you internal recruiters!

  • Fo
    Former Expat
    29 October 2010

    I observe that it is everything else than abilities. My company is aggressively hiring and at the other hand faces a huge expat drain. In some instances it is due to the package, others just realized that they are not welcome anymore.
    There might be more talent around than 5 years ago, however, not enough to successfully compete in a global market. There is fierce competition with Singapore and firms there seem to be less strict.

  • As
    Asia Trader
    23 October 2010

    Maybe you also be the next Bill Gates, just cos he did it? If eveything was about ability then it would be easy. You just got a lucky break that's all. Take his comment with a pinch of salt and listen to the professionals for proper advice or talk to people on the ground who know their stuff.

  • Ex
    21 October 2010

    Take this article with a grain of salt.

    I not only relocated to HK for my job, I did it without being in the industry for over 6 years and having never worked in Asia.

    It's up the candidate's abilities in the end.

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