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Nine major trends tearing up the job market in Hong Kong banking this autumn

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Summer is over, you’re back from vacation and you’re now turning your attention to your Hong Kong banking career.

If you do decide to attempt a job move, what key trends should you be aware of in the local labour market?

We spoke with several recruiters to find out.

1. More IB cuts are coming

The job cuts that hit Hong Kong investment banking in the first half of the year – in firms such as Barclays and Deutsche Bank – have now diminished rather than disappeared altogether. “Many banks have already made cuts this year but there is also less natural attrition,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruitment agency Robert Walters in Hong Kong. “So there will be further job cuts later this year – more investment bankers will be out of work.” BAML, BNP Paribas and Goldman Sachs are among the most likely to wield the axe, a headhunter told us last month.

2. Go in-house

“I’m working on some M&A roles for banks, but candidates are increasingly telling me they’re not interested in leaving one IB to join another to do the same role,” says Damian Babis, managing director of recruiters Capital People in Hong Kong. “Those who stay on the phone long enough often say ‘call me if you have any in-house corporate business development positions’. They used to ask about private equity moves, but now corporate ones are of more interest. Companies are realising that in-house teams can be more effective for the bulk of their M&A work.”

3. Embrace the cloud

Banks in Hong Kong are hiring fewer database administrator and other “standalone infrastructure roles”, says Vince Natteri, managing director of Hong Kong recruiters Pinpoint Asia. “Instead banks are moving their tech into the cloud. So if you’re a banking tech infrastructure candidate, you’re better off learning AWS, Google Cloud Platform or other cloud technologies to hone your skill for the future.”

4. Extra qualifications now matter more

Banks in Hong Kong aren’t hiring as many people as they were last year and when they do recruit they can afford to be choosy. In this tight job market your post-graduate qualifications can set you apart from rivals with the same level of work experience. “People who pursue Master’s degrees and professional qualifications like the FRM, CPA and CFA are more highly sought after now,” says Maggie Li, associate director of banking and financial services at recruiters Randstad in Hong Kong.

5. Contract hiring is up

As in Singapore, the job market for contractors is picking up. “Global banks are employing more contractors to lead urgent projects, mainly within their middle-office, operations and technology departments,” says Dean Stallard, regional director of recruiters Hays in Hong Kong. “It’s especially competitive for analyst to associate-level contractors. Banks are even improving their packages – including higher salaries, longer annual leave and better completion bonuses – to entice these candidates to move from permanent roles.”

6. Just don’t expect a perm job when you finish

If you’re taking a contract role primarily to land a permanent one once it’s over, you may be out of luck. Banks want you to replace their payrolled staff and are more likely to move you to another contract project when your initial stint is up. “Contract-to-perm conversions are down year on year because permanent headcount is harder to come by. This is driving an increase in contract extensions,” says Nick Lambe, group managing director at recruiters Links International in Hong Kong.

7. Expats are needed in...consumer banking

High-level strategic jobs are increasingly opening up in this sector, says Aida Karaki, a senior consultant at recruiters Astbury Marsden in Hong Kong. “Consumer banks in Hong Kong are building digital platforms to allow better access to more sophisticated products – so they’re hiring project managers with investment-products and complex-integration experience. These people aren’t easy to find in Hong Kong, so there’s an upturn in demand for candidates based in Europe or the US.”

8. And in cyber security

The talent shortage in this function has now reached breaking point in Hong Kong, says Natteri from Pinpoint. “It’s still a relatively new area locally and it's hard to find strong candidates with enterprise-level experience. So banks are now bringing in people from overseas to fill roles.”

9. Chinese banks continue hiring

Back in the spring Chinese investment banks were starting to ramp up their Hong Kong recruitment on the back of revenue league-table gains in Asia. Almost six months on and they are still hiring, says Mullally from Robert Walters. “They’re now the market leaders in Greater China when it comes to IPO and M&A because they’re getting access to the biggest and best deals. And they’re probably the only banks with the appetite and money to hire experienced bankers.”

Image credit:  iStock / Getty Images Plus

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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