The report provides in-depth insight into employment conditions, key employee skills in demand, sector trends and salary benchmarks in Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan.

Introduction

Greater China appears to be well-armed in withstanding volatility, despite the well-documented concerns surrounding the state of the region’s economy. Activity levels are positive, with the continued demand for digital specialists, among others, on the rise. While we are seeing some multinational corporations (MNCs) take a cautious approach to hiring amid an uncertain market outlook, mainland Chinese-owned firms are fast expanding and becoming increasingly competitive with their employer value proposition.

This report is based on the responses of over 1,000 employers across Greater China and insights received from a series of roundtables held with employers across the region.

Market Overview

Hong Kong enjoyed a good 2015 and predictions for the forthcoming year are somewhat positive, although elements of caution do exist as a result of various macroeconomic factors. Some 41% of employers surveyed are expecting a headcount increase and 40% expect headcount to remain the same.

While Hong Kong has typically been viewed by many MNCs as an international gateway and financial powerhouse, more fast-growing Chinese companies are also entering the Hong Kong market and looking to expand.

This trend has been particularly pronounced in financial services, especially within the asset management sector. We have seen a steady stream of such Chinese businesses opening offices in Hong Kong, hence driving demand in legal, compliance and operations.

The other major growth area is likely to be digital as more and more companies market themselves online and set up e-commerce channels. Much of this trend so far has been traditional retailers that are attempting to offset flat or declining sales with new revenue streams, but we are also seeing an increase in B2B firms embracing e-commerce. A shortage of talent continues to be a problem, and digital specialists changing jobs can expect salary increases of 20-25%.

Digital is not the only area facing talent shortages — 42% say sales and marketing roles are the hardest to fill for example — which is why many employers are looking outside of Hong Kong and bringing in experts from other parts of the region.

The rising cost of doing business in mainland China is also likely to benefit Hong Kong as Chinese businesses look to consolidate supply chains and scrutinise supplier quality more closely. As a well-established supply chain and logistics hub, Hong Kong is perhaps an obvious choice to host this function. We are also seeing mainland Chinese manufacturers setting up operations in lower cost countries in Asia, further reinforcing the importance of supply chain management. This is likely to increase demand for candidates in these areas, as well as some supporting services such as insurance.

Luxury retailers may find 2016 challenging, leading to a reduced demand for hiring overall, as well as a shift away from explicit sales staff toward a more client servicing model, which emphasises roles like personal shoppers and stylists. Reduced demand from retailers reliant on Mainland China visitors has seen rents fall in some key shopping areas, though increasing demand from fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and food & beverage brands may indicate the continued need for leasing experts.

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Key Insights

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Sales Insights

Industries like FMCG, information technology and technology (IT&T), and financial/business services are relatively more active in hiring. However, the retail industry, especially luxury retail, has slowed significantly.

There is strong demand for sales professionals who adopt consultative selling techniques as they are able to sell a “solution” instead of a “product”. This is particularly the case for middle to senior-level hires.

Having senior candidates play a more front-line role in sales and business development is a growing trend, especially in the IT&T and industrial spaces.

Still, many mid-tier MNCs and start-up companies from the US and Europe would consider Hong Kong as an advantageous location for breaking into the Greater China or Asia Pacific market, leading to a demand for sales staff with proven track records and flexible mindsets.

There is particular demand for key account managers in FMCG, sales managers/directors with cloud computing knowledge, business development managers/directors with regional distribution management experience, and sales staff with financial or general technology experience.

Sales will continue to be the first few roles that companies are willing to engage recruitment agencies in, given that these jobs are front-line facing and typically drive profit and revenue.

Despite recent global economic concerns, we have still worked with a significant number of international organisations setting up in Hong Kong over the last 12 months as part of their Greater China or Asia Pacific expansion plan.

Information Technology Insights

The technology market remains buoyant with cyber security experts of all levels in demand, both in the financial services sector and from commercial clients.

The insurance sector and high-tech small and medium enterprises have also been particularly healthy.

Software programmers from all backgrounds are in high demand, particularly those with banking or mobile application development experience.

Salary trends have been mixed since the market covers a wide spectrum of technical expertise across all levels. Pay increases can range between 5-20%. The market is likely to continue to fluctuate in this area.

Procurement & Supply Chain Insights

We have witnessed a demand for candidates with relevant procurement experience within the financial services sector, particularly insurance. This is not an uncommon observation when a sector is going through a period of uncertainty and looking to make some gains on the cost line.

Financial services firms are also looking at regional, rather than country-led procurement, to drive efficiency.

China has been losing its competitive advantage in traditional labour-intensive industries over the past decade as clients are diversifying their manufacturing operations across other low-cost countries in the region. In addition, clients are also becoming more cautious in their 2016 forecasts with China’s economic slowdown. There is therefore less reliance on Hong Kong’s close proximity to China.

However, there is now a greater emphasis on quality and supplier collaboration than ever before. Also, given the increased diversification of manufacturing bases in Asia, businesses will still need a centralised function to consolidate regional operations. Hong Kong’s reputation of being a procurement and supply chain pedigree will help secure talent demand in the industry.

There were more inquiries for automation and industrial engineering talent in the second half of 2015 and we believe this demand will continue to grow to save on labour-related costs in the long run.

Going ahead, 2016 will likely see a steady employment market, though most industries may choose to replace headcount instead of introducing new roles.

The average salary increment when switching jobs is about 10%.

Secretarial & Business Support Insights

Legal secretaries are in strong demand, particularly at international law firms, due in part to Hong Kong’s strong initial public offering (IPO) activity in 2015. We are also seeing a high demand for mid-level Mandarin-speaking support staff from Chinese banks and investment houses.

Within the commercial industries, we are still seeing an influx of new Asia-based start-ups or China-based small and medium-sized enterprises choosing Hong Kong as a representative gateway office to the international market. These smaller offices typically require multi-skilled candidates who can take ownership of the office set-up and ensure it is run smoothly.

There are also more start-ups in the technology industry looking for talent who have potential and are committed to growing with the business. Successful candidates may not have many years of experience, but demonstrate excellent organisational and entrepreneurial skills.

It may still be a difficult year for the retail industry, but from an employer's perspective, the support roles in various brands remain stable.

Marketing Insights

In general, the market remained stable and active in 2015, and 2016 is expected to trend similarly. However, we have also observed stagnation across some industries for junior to mid-level roles, especially in retail.

Digital marketing skills continue to be in high demand. Even companies looking for integrated marketers tend to look for candidates who have some knowledge of digital marketing.

The FMCG and retail marketing sectors have been stagnant due to slower growth, but regional business-to-business (B2B) marketers are in relatively niche positions and much sought-after.

There is an increasing demand for people with analytics skills. Some employers are even looking at integrating people with IT and technical backgrounds into their marketing teams to handle data.

Most roles we see are replacements. Headcount in established agencies may not go up in the next year, but recruitment is still ongoing as they need to hire more specialised and experienced candidates, particularly in the digital space.

Pay rises from job movements are expected to range between 10-15% for junior to mid-level marketing roles. In some specific areas, including the legal industry, marketing candidates can get a 15-20% boost.

Counter-offers happen quite often, both in the in-house and agency contexts. Agencies in particular tend to be more aggressive in offering immediate salary/title increments to retain talent as they typically face higher turnover rates due to relatively heavy workloads and employees’ aspirations to move in-house.

Finance & Accounting Insights

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Demand for finance and accounting professionals remains strong, but employers are more cautious and have included multiple rounds of interviews and aptitude tests as part of the selection process.

In general, employees are expecting a 10-15% pay raise when considering a new move.

The rise of digital and e-commerce set-ups means an increasing demand for IT audit professionals across all industries, while the increased focus on reducing bad debt is driving demand for credit risk staff.

Hong Kong is now the new overseas headquarters of many Chinese firms, driving demand for finance, investor relations, and corporate finance professionals.

More companies are hiring financial and business analysts to boost cost savings, business growth and operational efficiencies.

Less-qualified candidates with 1-2 years of external audit experience are highly sought-after for in-house entry-level accounting positions.

Contracting will continue to be a popular recruitment solution during busy seasons such as year-end closings, systems implementation and mergers and acquisition (M&A) projects.

Human Resources Insights

The role of the HR function today has evolved to one that helps people and organisations grow. This has translated into an increase in demand for strong talent acquisition, learning and development, and talent management specialists.

The
growth and importance of HR analytics will continue to develop in 2016, allowing business leaders to analyse the value and performance of their employees.

In general, the market remained stable and active in 2015 and 2016 is expected to trend similarly. Employees generally move for higher salaries, with typical increases hovering around 10-15%. Some organisations are offering a rise of 15-20%, or more, to attract the best talent.

The insurance sector is actively hiring for their HR functions. Key roles in this area have been in talent acquisition as well as HR business partnering. A high number of financial services-based candidates who were affected by the downturn are actively seeking roles in the insurance sector.

Businesses in the fast fashion retail sector are expanding their HR teams as the retail landscape has shifted its focus from luxury retail to mid-market fashion brands. The FMCG, high-technology and logistics sectors are also hiring more HR professionals due to a number of overseas and mainland Chinese businesses relocating to or expanding their presence into Hong Kong.

Financial Services & Banking Insights

Sector Overview

Global Banking & Specialist Markets


Mainland Chinese firms continue to increase their presence in Hong Kong as the region is often seen as an international gateway to global markets, investors, and cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

Compensation at mainland Chinese firms appears to be catching up with global banks as the former competes for top talent.

A number of the global bulge bracket banks had hired significantly in 2015 for investment banking roles. However, for some, their deal flows have not matched this growth in headcount. This could possibly cause an uncertain start to 2016 as some firms look to cut costs.

Large fines levied on a number of major global banks are forcing more senior leaders to cut riskier, costly and capital-intensive businesses. We expect front office sales and trading teams to be further reduced in 2016 as more firms exit the business.

Last year saw the decline of cash equities commissions and this development may further squeeze out mid-tier equities businesses this year. A number of these firms have since shrunk their headcount or pulled out of the market.

Global markets sales and trading teams have had steady growth in headcount due to the continued client-led demand for treasury products.

Asset Management

More Chinese asset management companies have been setting up off-shore offices in Hong Kong. In many cases, the fund distribution is performed via the quota system (QDII) to invest on-shore Chinese Renminbi (RMB) into off-shore assets. As a result, companies are looking for portfolio managers, risk, finance and operations candidates in the Hong Kong market.

Reporting, risk and control are becoming increasingly important. Hence, finance candidates with solid asset management experience in corporate accounting, fund accounting and investment valuation are highly sought-after. Due to the continuing business focus on mainland China, Mandarin skills are also essential.

Western-based fund companies are increasing the pace at which new China-focused funds in Hong Kong are being launched and are hiring some of the surplus talent in the market following the closure of smaller fund houses. Candidates with fund launch, Securities & Futures Commission (SFC) licensing and fund operation experience, especially those with RMB funds investing through the quota (RQFII) system, are in high demand.

Global asset management firms are once again investing in the sales and distribution of funds as more investors are now willing to invest using spare capital. Quota products (RQFII and QDII) and alternative investments are of particular interest to investors seeking to diversify their holdings.

A number of distressed debt and special situation-investing firms have been set up to capitalise on the value found in mainland China's volatile economic situation. Current firms have also added headcount.

Asset management companies are strengthening their compliance teams by adding more headcount and additional layers of control. Candidates who have experience in dealing with SFC regulators are typically in high demand.

Across the asset management sector, there are wide differences among total compensation packages offered. This difference depends on whether the fund parent is based internationally, in mainland China or Hong Kong. In particular, we have noticed some Chinese asset management companies adopt a lower base and higher target-based bonus approach to compensation packages.

Salaries for fund administration roles are generally lower than those in asset management.

Chinese asset managers tend to have lower basic salaries but may receive higher bonuses.

Bonuses are higher across roles in alternative funds as opposed to traditional funds.

Insurance

We have seen a strong preference for senior Big Four candidates when it comes to finance roles. There is also a strong demand for regional and Hong Kong financial reporting candidates as a number of our clients are upskilling or expanding their teams.

Finance projects and system automation teams are also active in hiring. There has been a strong demand for strong business analyst/project managers from investment banks or asset management firms.

Compliance continues to be a busy area with a number of candidates moving from the banks into insurance companies as they recognise the appeal of a more stable platform and improved work-life balance.

Specialism Overview

Compliance

With the Hong Kong's SFC and Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) placing tighter control on all financial institutions, the demand for compliance staff at all levels continues. It is fair to say that the demand has outweighed supply and thus many of our clients are prepared to pay over the market rate for quality compliance candidates. Salary increases during job changes can reach up to 40%.

The compliance market has been very fluid, partly because of the high salary increases. Many candidates now find it easier to switch jobs within their first 18 months compared with previous years, where shorter stints would typically have been appraised negatively. Anti-money laundering (AML) and Financial Crime Compliance (FCC) have been the biggest areas of demand. Often, smaller institutions prefer candidates who have general compliance experience as these employees have a greater breadth of exposure, but AML will still form a part of the job requirement.

Internal Audit

Global markets and private banking audit teams at European and US banks have increased headcount, albeit slightly.

Work-life balance, flexibility and travel opportunities (mainly for junior executives) are key factors for retention.

The average salary increment is about 20% for candidates moving between banks.

International banks are looking for overseas candidates who want to relocate to Hong Kong.

While candidates with product knowledge and risk management awareness are valued, some hiring managers are also considering non-audit candidates (i.e. those from another business function).

There has been more demand in the last six months for candidates at the vice-president level across the investment banks looking for individuals with strong capital markets experience.

Candidates have moved from the areas of risk management (market, credit and operational), compliance, product control and front office into audit functions and this trend will continue in 2016.

Risk

Hiring activity for market risk candidates has been significantly higher at top-tier investment banks and Chinese market players.

Bonuses have been steady at most banks. Assistant vice-presidents and vice-presidents typically receive 2-4 months bonuses and those at local and mainland Chinese banks may receive up to six months. Top performing vice-presidents moving between banks may expect a 20-25% pay increase.

Skills in demand include equity derivatives and market risk analysis, and rates and FX valuation. Private banking analysts and candidates who are able to write Chinese language credit proposals are also in demand.

Hot jobs for 2016 include: market/liquidity risk and credit analyst positions at mainland Chinese banks as well as rates market risk, equity derivatives and market risk roles at US banks.

Finance

More Chinese asset management companies moving to Hong Kong are looking for financial directors.

The most active hiring sector in finance last year was regulatory reporting. Many banks are working on automating the HKMA reporting process to improve accuracy and efficiency. Hence, candidates with strong experience in HKMA reporting and system automation projects were and, very likely, will be highly sought-after.

The trend to off-shore finance and product control functions to lower-cost locations such as the Philippines and India continues. Hence, hiring in areas such as management reporting and product control is slower, with only replacement roles available.

Equities product controllers were highly sought-after and companies were often willing to offer an attractive increment between 25-30%. There was also a strong demand for planning and analysis candidates at the vice-president level.

We have seen hiring pick up for corporate treasury and funding roles in many global investment banks. More banks are looking to add such professionals in Hong Kong to support their Asia businesses instead of centralising these functions in their overseas headquarters.

Top performing candidates with classic profiles — Big Four-trained, with at least three years of experience at investment banks — typically receive a 15-20% increment in their next move.

Operations

Most private banks are expanding their headcount in both relationship management and client servicing roles, especially in mainland China and Taiwan. Candidates with over five years of client servicing experience in established private banks, with good English and Mandarin language skills are in high demand.

Within investment banking operations, there is a demand for candidates in the equity derivatives trade support function. Associate-level candidates with solid knowledge in exotic products are highly sought-after.

Know Your Customer (KYC) is still an area that investment and private banks are prioritising. In particular, we have seen increasing demand for client onboarding roles at corporate investment banks.

In general, available roles in foreign banks are mostly replacement positions, while many Chinese banks and securities firms are still hiring aggressively. Candidates moving between companies may receive salary increases of 15-20%.

Contracting

Contracting is becoming an increasingly popular option for our clients as temporary assignments can help to counter either cost management challenges or headcount issues.

Chinese firms — and some European companies — typically have the highest levels of growth. Despite the slowing down of the Chinese economy, the China market is still strong and developing. Europe’s market is recovering and we are starting to see new headcount opening in European banks, at least for businesses in the Asia Pacific market.

Back office roles, such as operations within banks, have the least growth in terms of new permanent headcount. Many back office functions have been outsourced to other countries such as Singapore and India. However, this move also means that there are contracting opportunities available in Hong Kong, allowing candidates with less experience to enter the field.

“Flexi-hours have been in place at our company, but not all employees embrace the concept. In Hong Kong, some people say that working from home doesn’t excite them a lot, given that homes are small. So we realised that we have to adapt some of these concepts to the local market.”

– HR director, consumer goods sector

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