The number of financial services jobs available in Hong Kong and mainland China soared in the first quarter of the year, despite highly publicised job cuts and the prevailing sense of doom that exists across much of the sector. Some 56 per cent more financial services jobs were available in Hong Kong between January and March 2017 than in the last three months of 2016, according to report from global recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley, and in the mainland China 105 per cent more.
The data tracks jobs available rather than net change, and so is not affected by the roughly 19 000 jobs that were lost at the big four mainland banks in 2016, or the widely publicised cost cutting taking place at Hong Kong institutions such as HSBC and Bank of East Asia.
Instead it reflects the move by financial institutions – particularly from the mainland – to develop new products, services or lines of business, and they are recruiting strongly in both locations to achieve this. “Financial institutions of all kinds, including banks, insurers and asset managers have been recruiting in areas such as technology, especially artificial intelligence, and in compliance,” said Richie Holliday, Morgan McKinley’s chief operating office for Asia Pacific.
China Merchants Bank, for example, told an investor briefing last week that it planned to spend about 1 per cent of its future profits on financial technology and development, and that according to its own calculations the cost of a mobile-based transaction was 0.27 yuan – just 1.8 per cent of the cost of an equivalent counter-based transaction.
While this transition to greater use of technology is helped with cost cutting and potential head count losses overall , it nonetheless still requires significant recruitment to achieve those savings.
There is also a seasonal aspect to the uptick in the number of jobs available, Holliday acknowledges. “Employees who receive a ‘13th month’ payment at the end of the year or an annual bonus are likely to wait for this to be paid before looking to move onto another job,” he said. As a result, in Hong Kong and mainland China there is a greater number of people leaving their jobs at the start of the year than at other periods, and so there is a correspondingly greater number of vacancies needing filled early in the year. Should these bonuses disappoint, then that might prove an additional inducement to leave.
Foreign banks, especially European ones, are under pressure to cut costs in their Asian operations and better justify the amount of capital they devote to them. Therefore, as well as cutting bonuses, many have been shrinking their activities or withdrawing from certain business segments or markets.
Mainland Chinese and regional institutions are eager to fill the gaps left by these withdrawals, and this provides an additional reason for the greater number of jobs available, as the relative newcomers need to hire staff to fund their expansions, said Holliday.
This too has resulted in a change in the types of employees organisations are looking for. “Someone with extensive knowledge of a particular market in China or Hong Kong,” he added, “or with Chinese language skills is likely to be more attractive to an employer than an overseas candidate who is looking to move from an investment banking role in Singapore to one in Hong Kong.”