, Hong Kong
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Hong Kong's iconic skyline; some banks' headquarters in the city can be seen. Photo by Daniam Chou via Unsplash.

Bankers face sluggish hiring market, layoffs in Hong Kong

Industry insiders reveal how investment banks prioritize cost efficiency and productivity over hiring new employees.

Bankers seeking a job in Hong Kong should brace themselves for obstacles as banking on human resource investments has seen a slowdown. Hiring experts revealed to Asian Banking & Finance that there is an informal hiring freeze and some layoffs as banks focus on maximizing productivity rather than hiring new employees.

“Over the last nine months, it’s definitely slowed down. And then over three months, it slowed down even further, especially in the wake of happenings in the global investment banking market,” said John Mullally, Robert Walters’ managing director for Hong Kong and South China.

Investment banking layoffs have hit the shores of Hong Kong, although not as much as New York and London. Mullally, in particular, noticed an amount of layoffs at the senior levels.

“What was seen during the global financial crisis were huge swathes of bankers losing their jobs. We are definitely seeing some layoffs, especially at the senior levels, which are more visible, more noticeable,” Mullally said, adding that whilst there are no “formal” hiring freeze announcements, there was definitely an “informal hiring freeze [or] less hiring activity in general.”

Instead of hiring, banks are focused on maximizing the productivity of their workforce.

Olga Yung, managing director at Michael Page Hong Kong, said that the majority of companies and hiring managers have as their key priority the improvement of cost efficiency and productivity in 2023.

“This is a common theme across a variety of sell side players regardless of size,” Yung told Asian Banking & Finance via exclusive correspondence.

RMs, tech roles still in demand
Whilst hiring has slowed down due to overall weak market sentiment and negative news coming out in relation to various banks, there are still some roles that are in demand for banks.

“Across the sell side, mid to back office operations, compliance risk, finance and audit are constantly in demand for talent,” Yung said.
Private bankers and relationship managers from retail banks are also sought after. 

“If you're a relationship manager who can bring in assets, who can move clients, there's still a demand for that. But outside of that, [the demand] is not particularly active,” Mullally said.

Banks are also still looking into hiring quality developers and programmers, as this is a shallow talent pool in Hong Kong, he added.
In 2022, ESG and crypto are two “hot topics” in hiring according to Yung. ESG remains a hot talking point, but candidates will need relevant exposure to be considered in these positions. 

“Before [the] crypto winter arrived, anyone who had experience or interest in crypto is a prospective candidate to the countless digital asset players which have emerged in the market over the recent few years. We saw high levels of hiring and interview activities across the majority of 2022, until the last quarter,” Yung said.

Too little, too late
In 2022, the strict travel rules reportedly drove bankers and experts away from Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong has since lifted its strict travel restrictions, but the effect is unfortunately nil. 

“It definitely increased confidence in the market. The problem is, it happened after the financial services and the investment banking markets really slowed down hiring because of the broader geopolitical challenges in the world and broader economic challenges, such as the looming threat of a global recession,” Mullally said.

“The lifting of the quarantine was very much welcome for Hong Kong as a place for employers and employees. But the challenge now is that not many financial services firms are hiring and they’re certainly not hiring near the level that they hired in 2021,” he added.

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