Recruiters fear potential hiring slump in wake of Hong Kong protests
If you're looking for a new banking job in Hong Kong, you may not want to wait to receive your bonus from your current employer next year. Following recent pro-democracy protests in the city, recruiters are worried that banks may be forced to cut back their hiring plans for 2015.
For the coming quarter, however, the protests are less likely to have a major effect on banks' hiring, says Hong Kong-based Marlene Chan, a managing consultant at search firm Capital People. “Banks have already made their decisions for Q4. In fact, in the past two weeks we’ve had a lot of new roles come in, even though it’s traditionally a quiet time for hiring.”
Banks will use the fourth quarter to plan their recruitment for 2015 and pipeline candidates for the crucial post-bonus hiring season. If the unrest in Hong Kong escalates over the coming weeks, recruiters fear that banks will be more cautious with their headcount needs for next year. “If the situation here doesn’t improve, any negative effect on hiring probably won’t be felt until Q1 and Q2 next year – that’s far enough away for banks to pull back,” says Chan.
James Carss, Asia managing director at Dryden Human Capital in Hong Kong, adds: “The impact on jobs in financial services depends on whether the weekend protests represent a peak or just the calm before the storm. If they do increase, business confidence could be affected – look at how the HK stock market fell on Monday – and that could impact the job market, but it’s too early to tell right now.”
Similarly, the protests don’t appear to be making Hong Kong – recently rated the world’s third most important financial centre – a less attractive career destination for foreign financial professionals, at least not yet. “If the protests generally subside soon, I don't think they're going to have any big impact on foreign talent. But if the situation gets worse, I doubt any overseas candidate will want to work in a place that prevents you from entering your office premises,” warns Vince Natteri, director of Hong Kong recruiters Pinpoint Asia.
Banks in Hong Kong have generally reduced their hiring from outside of Greater China in the past three years as finance jobs become more reliant on mainland market knowledge. But the city still suffers from talent shortages, particularly at management level and in the middle office, which sometimes need to be plugged with talent from London, New York, Singapore and other global financial hubs.
“The overseas candidates I’m working with at the moment certainly haven’t pulled out or lost interest, although once they get to offer stage, and if the situation worsens in Hong Kong, they may potentially think twice. We’ll have to wait and see,” says Chan from Capital People.
“We must also remember that so far the protests, while important and extraordinary from a Hong Kong perspective, have been comparatively civilised from a global perspective – unrest in London in recent years has been more violent, for example,” says Carss from Dryden. “But still, from speaking to a head of contingency planning at a big bank here, I know that his team are rushed off their feet. Hong Kong’s financial regulators are making sure the banks have proper contingency plans in place.”
While the long-term impact of the Occupy protests on Hong Kong’s labour market is unclear, the short-term consequences are already being felt. As was widely reported yesterday, firms based near the epicentre of the protests in the Central and Admiralty districts – including Deloitte, EY and Citic Securities – were advising staff to work from home.
The unrest in Hong Kong isn’t only affecting current employees – recruitment agencies in the city have been forced to cancel some job interviews this week for aspiring candidates. “On Monday two banks postponed job interviews with my candidates because of the Hong Kong protests,” says Chan. “And because we don’t know when the protests will end, the banks haven’t yet arranged new interview times, so at this stage they are indefinite postponements.”