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Warning: There's still time for more cuts in Hong Kong before Christmas

With only a few weeks to year-end and some nasty redundancies already in the bag, it seems that banks are still seeking to slash more staff in November and December.

The 13 Hong Kong HR professionals who gathered for the eFinancialCareers roundtable last week were realistic about the market conditions facing their firms. "We're all letting people go right now. Even my firm, which overall is in growth mode this year, is now planning to trim a few people," said one of the delegates, all of whom asked not to be named in this report.

However, a representative from a bulge bracket bank said although there is room for more redundancies, firms still see Asia as a growth region in the longer term and the remaining layoffs this year will at least be minimal compared with those in the US and Europe.

Hiring hit

It isn't just jobs which are being chopped: banks are also reducing recruitment rates. Even existing vacancies are under threat. "If positions haven't yet been filled, there is a risk they may soon be cut. We're now having to look at things from a macro standpoint and reassess open roles," commented a panellist.

Another roundtable attendee added: "It's always a quiet time for recruitment in Q4, but this year the downturn has definitely been more pronounced. Senior management is asking us to think more deeply about all our hiring and whether new headcount can be pushed into 2012."

In contrast to previous Q4 roundtables, the delegates were reluctant to discuss hiring plans for the following year in much detail. Global economic turmoil means some institutions have delayed finalising their hiring budgets, so recruitment projections for 2012 are thus more uncertain than they would usually be in November.

A few pockets of demand

A couple of banks did mention certain areas where they plan to expand. "We've seen a decline in wholesale banking, but in consumer banking we can't feel any adverse effects. We are still driving towards higher headcounts there. We're also recruiting in technology and risk," said one delegate.

Her counterpart at an Asian bank added: "We're more conservative in back-office hiring, but we're aiming for salespeople. The problem we're finding is that not many of them want to move in the current market."

It's tough for external foreign candidates

The downward recruitment trend is also taking its toll on the ability of overseas-based candidates to find work in Hong Kong. The roundtable delegates agreed that they generally only hire from abroad for roles demanding specific skills, such as product specialists. "We are open to foreign candidates, but we do a lot of due diligence on them."

By far the best route into Hong Kong these days is via a transfer within your current firm, agreed the attendees. One bank has a policy of advertising its roles internally for two weeks before it looks for outside candidates.

A delegate from a European bank added: "We're doing a big build-out in Asia and can't afford to risk external relocations. Internal people from our European offices know our best practices and they can then build up local teams around them."

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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