As the Year of the Rabbit recedes into history and financial market jitters dampen hiring, the ability to retain and nurture talented staff remains one of the most important challenges for the banking sector.
Anthony Thompson, managing director at recruitment firm Michael Page International, says most progressive banks are focused on a strong succession plan. However, he says banks are reviewing their cost base and working to improve efficiencies, just like many businesses in a challenging economic climate.
"Where this can involve changes to headcount, most large organisations have an established talent pool and teams of experienced people whose training and retention are part of the group's business strategy," he says.
Emma Charnock, regional director of Hays recruitment firm in Hong Kong and China, says a series of sharp job cuts in some banking areas, including middle and upper-middle posts, has meant that less senior bank staff must take on more responsibility.
"Investment in training and succession planning is something banks have been doing in recent years, so in most cases, there should not be any significant impact on business operations," says Charnock.
She adds that ideally, banks should have a succession plan with a time horizon of three to five years, reflecting the period it takes to develop internal candidates through job experiences. Key positions should have emergency back-ups as well as longer-term potential candidates
At DBS Bank (HK), Sharon Cheng - managing director and head of human resources, Hong Kong and China - says succession planning is an ongoing process.
"A key factor of the succession planning policy is to ensure connectivity with our business strategy and alignment to DBS Group standards," she says.
"Succession planning plays a vital role in preserving our culture, information and knowledge that could be lost due to retirement and attrition. It is also a necessary process to meet our manpower requirements in terms of quality and quantity, by addressing competency and filling skill gaps," says Cheng, adding that DBS combines succession planning with learning and development, equal opportunities and performance management.
In a competitive talent pool, succession planning also needs to take into account the attitudes and opinions of Generation Y (Gen Y) employees, who can be future leaders, says Brenda Wilson, Mercer's Asia-Pacific leader of talent development consulting.
"Managing [Gen Y's] expectations through transparent career management strategies will be vital to aid retention and secure appropriate return on training investment," says Wilson.
Martin Cerullo, managing director for Asia-Pacific development with recruitment firm Alexander Mann Solutions, notes that while many banks have curtailed hiring, they are still maintaining their graduate management training schemes.
"Banks have been increasingly placing importance on their graduate management programmes as a key part of their succession planning," he says.
He expects the competition among fresh graduates to become a lot tougher. "We have received reports of more than 50 applications for each graduate management position," he says.
The good news is that more and more internships are being converted into permanent posts, Cerullo says, citing the trend in London, where more that 30 per cent of interns are being offered permanent jobs. He expects a similar trend to emerge soon in Hong Kong.
Ashley Veasey, Standard Chartered chief information officer for Hong Kong, says building a management talent pipeline is a major challenge for banks.
"Our [Group Technology and Operators management trainee programme] is part of a bank-wide Massively Multiplying Leadership Capability initiative," he says.
Those accepted into the 12-month GTO scheme work in three areas - wholesale and consumer banking, and operations and technology, Veasey says.
"We are really looking at developing leadership for the next generation of banking. Therefore, we look more at the individual and the leadership potential and qualities they bring. We also look for young inquisitive people who have an open mind and freely question the way things are done."