Year of the Wooden Horse kicks off this week, and while some Hong Kong banks are taking a cautious view on hiring, others are champing at the bit to add more staff in a bid to take advantage of a flurry of IPO activity planned for 2014.
Two of the city's larger institutions - Haitong International Securities and China Merchant Bank - are hiring aggressively to take on the big multinationals in the investment banking segment.
Haitong is reportedly planning to hire 40 new staff this year as part of its two-year plan to increase its Hong Kong i-banking footprint. The company told IFR Asia that it would add staff to its debt capital markets operations, as well as the M&A team. In addition, the teams running fixed income, currencies and commodities (FICC), and derivatives, would be strengthened by new hires.
Haitong International's Shanghai-based parent company Haitong Securities has been performing strongly, and employees in Hong Kong were given bonuses for 2013 that doubled their salaries. Haitong International declined to comment on what bonuses would be awarded to its Hong Kong staff.
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Another bank that paid generous bonuses and which is also on the recruitment trail is China Merchant Bank, which is hiring 100 new staff in 2014 in a bid to become one of the top 10 investment banks in the city. The bank says it is looking for people for FICC and leveraged finance.
But it by no means certain that this hiring spree will be seen across the board in the banking sector.
Sophia Yan, senior consultant at Bó Lè Associates believes that the impact of the US Federal Reserve's tapering of its cheap money programme is making banks cautious.
"There probably will only be some selective replacement hiring instead of major expansion because the global financial market is still uncertain due to the gradual withdrawal of liquidity by central banks."
But the good news is that the expected deal flow from the number of IPOs expected this year after China lifted its freeze on companies going to market is generating interest.
Kirstin MacLaren, director of Michael Page Financial Services in Hong Kong, says there has been growing interest from clients to expand their teams to support the work load.
"Specific sectors are in stronger demand than others, specifically financial institutions group (FIG) staff, property, internet and healthcare as many Chinese banks are looking to expand their teams."
Right now, though, mostly hiring is focusing on the lower ranks of analysts and associates in investment banking, but, she says, "after the bonus announcements, we expect to see more movement at the VP level and above".
She notes that the battle for good people is competitive, especially as there is increasing hiring activity from sell-side firms.
"Company brand, title, and compensation are as important as ever when a candidate is considering moving externally."