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Banking, professional services employers cautious as Hong Kong outlook remains uncertain, recruiting firm says

Chad Bray chadwick.bray@scmp.com

Employers and prospective hires in financial, legal and other professional roles are being more conservative in Hong Kong as the city endures one of its worst political crises, marked by five months of anti-government protests, according to a report by recruiting firm Robert Walters.

When changing jobs, the expected salary increase has declined to between 10 per cent and 15 per cent for next year in Hong Kong, according to the Robert Walters Salary Survey 2020. In 2019, salaries were expected to increase by 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

"Employers will be adopting a cautious approach to recruitment, and insist on candidates with specific, niche skill sets," said Ricky Mui, managing director of Robert Walters in Hong Kong. "Hiring processes are expected to be lengthened and additional interview stages added, with more rigorous due diligence on candidates."

The survey comes as the protests and civil unrest weigh on a variety of businesses, having sent the city's economy into a technical recession in the third quarter.

The protests began in June over a controversial extradition bill that would have made it easier to send criminal suspects to China for trial. The bill has been formally withdrawn, but the protests have grown into a broader unrest about affordable housing, income inequality and Beijing's influence over the city.

Intensifying clashes between police and more radical protesters have forced retailers and restaurants to close early, and have discouraged tourists " particularly those from mainland China " from visiting the city.

At the same time, big banks have been tightening their belts as they prepare for an uncertain economic environment and look to improve their profitability.

Deutsche Bank said in July that it would slash about 18,000 jobs worldwide and close its equity sales and trading business globally. HSBC said in October that it plans to accelerate its cost cutting efforts after announcing earlier this year that it would eliminate less than 2 per cent of its workforce in 2019.

Both Deutsche Bank and HSBC have, however, previously said they see Asia and Hong Kong as growth regions where they will make investments in the future.

Robert Walters said the job market for professionals in the city was showing signs of becoming more risk adverse in light of the uncertainty over the global economy and a weakened outlook for Hong Kong.

Within the financial services industry, there has been a slowdown in hiring for trading and equity-related positions, but recruitment has remained active for private banking and wealth management roles, the recruiter said.

Prospects tighten for expat bankers as Hong Kong lenders trim staff

Robert Walters said there was a new arms race to acquire top talent in the financial technology and virtual banking spaces.

Hong Kong awarded its first virtual banking licences this year, with most of the new competitors expected to offer their products by early next year.

Accenture, the consulting and professional services firm, said in a report this month banks in China and Hong Kong could lose as much as US$61 billion in revenue from payments by 2025, as they face increased competition from technology companies and other non-banking financial companies.

Among fintech professionals surveyed, 88 per cent were optimistic about job opportunities next year, Robert Walters said.

"The sought-after talent ranged from business chiefs to operational professionals, covering finance, risk, legal and compliance and system developers," according to the report.

Among financial professionals staying in their current roles, 39 per cent expected a salary increase of 7 per cent to 10 per cent next year, while 35 per cent expected a bonus of 11 per cent to 20 per cent of their annual salary.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.