Are bankers in Asia becoming too costly for banks?

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Up, up and away. That's the steady chorus from different banks as staff compensation climbs in Asia.

Last month, HSBC's full-year earnings fell short of analysts' estimates as increased staff expenses outpaced revenue growth, according to Bloomberg.

We also reported on how Standard Chartered's staff costs rose by 17 per cent last year compared with 2009.

Now UBS has joined the club. Last week, Alex Wilmot-Sitwell, co-head of UBS's Asia-Pacific operations, told Bloomberg that Asia is seeing staff expenses increase at a faster rate than other regions.

This could potentially lead to the bank's profit margins in Asia shrinking "for a year or two", he said.

So why are costs swelling?

Generally speaking, staff costs in all banks have risen across the board in the last five years, says Angela Kuek, head of front office banking and financial services, Hudson.

She says: "Banks have built up and expanded teams in the last five years. So staff costs have risen, especially for front office and sales roles, because proven performers in these roles are limited."

For instance, five years ago, the maximum annual base salary an AVP in Singapore could command was around S$110k. Now that figure is around S$140K-150k, says Kuek.

Farida Charania, chief executive officer, banking and financial services, Nastrac, has also seen compensation rise by eight to 10 per cent in wholesale banking positions in the past year.

She comments: "Rising costs isn't an isolated issue or a regional one, it is happening throughout the world especially since the market has recovered and there are more options for employees.

"Perhaps the reason why it's showing right now could be because staff turnover now is higher; it's gone from an average of three years to two years."

Non-tangibles like relocation costs for expats have also "all gone up", so hiring is more expensive overall, says Charania.

Will rising staff costs and skinnier profits mean banks will slash recruitment instead?

Well, not for the short term at least. Charania says banks will have to get on with "business as usual" for now.

However, if the trend persists, support functions not directly contributing to revenue, such as IT, could see less hiring, she says.

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