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Firms focus on compensation packages
Published on Friday, 05 Mar 2010
Many banks in Hong Kong and the region will be adding staff to their rosters this year as the economic turmoil subsides.
Photo: Bloomberg

While financial markets collide with the political backlash over bonuses being paid to bankers in the United States and Europe, in Hong Kong it's a different story. The city's financial institutions appear to have weathered the global meltdown.

Still, in response to calls for leaner compensation packages after the financial crisis, many banks have cut bonuses for executives but have increased salaries instead.

Christina Ng, manager of financial services with recruitment firm Robert Walters Hong Kong, says the finance sector is experiencing a shift in emphasis from commission and bonus models to a structure where the base salary forms a more substantial amount of the total compensation package.

"Compensation in other forms is also becoming more common such as deferred bonuses or shares and stock options. We are also seeing a trend where commission is based on the products that financial professionals are selling as opposed to strict revenue models," Ng says.

According to Eunice Ng, director at Avanza Consulting, offering competitive salaries is one of the factors involved for recruiting and retaining top professionals.

"Some of our clients have recently awarded bonuses and even stock options to exceptional managers as a reward for outstanding performance. This also serves as a valuable tool for recognition and retention. The payment of bonuses is no longer guaranteed.

"If this is the case, outstanding talent will expect other incentives such as an increase in base salary of at least 10 per cent."

While recognising it is important to provide competitive remuneration to attract the best professionals, Enid Yip, chief executive officer at Bank Sarasin, believes recruiting talent that fit the job is more important.

"I expect to attract more quality staff over the year. But I use the word attract carefully, we want people who understand, appreciate and share our commitment to clients."

To maintain its objectives, Yip says Bank Sarasin has adopted a long-term growth strategy.

"We hired selectively when we had the opportunity to hire exceptional talent, and we will continue to do that," Yip says. "I know the only way to build a sustainable business is to take a steady approach to recruiting the best."

Julius Baer's chief executive for North Asia, Andrea Benenati, shares a similar view. "We continue to grow our business through the hiring of new teams of experienced bankers." He says overall staffing levels in Asia continue to grow in line with business achievements. "Over 10 per cent of Julius Baer's global staff work in Asia.

"With our application to change our Hong Kong operation into a bank branch, we will continue to expand our teams, particularly in the back office area," Benenati says.

Like others close to the financial sector's recruitment and human resources industry, James Carss, general manager at Hudson Global Resources (Hong Kong), points out there is a continuous struggle to produce enough top professionals to meet the demand of the financial sector.

"The Hong Kong economy is bouncing back quickly and hiring is on the increase. Wealth management firms are actively looking for new talent and hiring activities are in full swing. The private wealth management industry is always short of talented people and banks fight hard to retain their star performers."

With Asia-Pacific identified as a growth engine for the UBS Group, Kathryn Shih, chief executive of UBS Wealth Management, Asia-Pacific, says it is planning to hire about 200 people in the region this year. "We are expanding our business and are hiring across all front, middle and back-office functions across all divisions and at all levels in Hong Kong and across the region."

Barclays Wealth is doubling its number of private bankers globally over the next five years, with a key focus on Asia.

Joanna Chu, Barclays Wealth, head of North Asia, says the organisation will be adding depth to its existing team.

"In addition to hiring private bankers we are also looking to hire across the spectrum of other roles within Barclays including investment advisory, trust structuring, research and products," Chu says.