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Time for temps amid the gloom
Chris Davis
update on Saturday, November 19, 2011
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As the doom and gloom in the finance markets continue to dominate headlines, the employment dynamics for non-core finance professionals working in the banking and finance sectors are going through a radical change.

According to recruitment firm Robert Walters, over the past six months, within the banking and finance sector, support services including legal, information technology, marketing and communications have experienced a downturn on the permanent hiring side in favour of an upturn in contract recruitment, or temporary hires, also known as temps.

"There is still a need for non-core financial roles, but banks are less willing to commit to long-term head count," says John Mullally, Robert Walters banking manager for alternative finance. "In the current environment, with less banking and finance jobs coming on to the market, job seekers will find it is more difficult to pick and choose jobs as readily as they did previously. Contract work is something that job candidates should keep in mind when they are talking to recruiters or looking for employment opportunities within the market," says Mullally.

He adds that the concept of hiring contract workers is another indicator that Hong Kong banks are closely reviewing their hiring policies regarding jobs not directly linked to revenue-creation roles. While contract hiring is widely utilised in major finance centres such as London, New York and Sydney, Mullally says the concept is still fairly new in Hong Kong.

"There is sometimes a perception that a contract worker is not quite good enough to be offered a permanent position. But line managers are realising that by hiring professionals on a contract basis, they are able to complete projects within a budget that may not be available to recruit a permanent member of staff," says Mullally.

He adds that contract work provides employees and employers with flexibility. For example, for people with IT, legal and marketing skills, the attraction of contract work could fit in with other lifestyle pursuits. "For those with the right mindset, contract work can appeal to their mercenary instincts where they become a sort of `gun for hire' professional who seeks out different opportunities," says Mullally.

For employers, Mullally says the attraction of hiring contract workers means there are fewer obligations compared with long-term employment contracts. A further appeal for employers occurs when a contract position becomes a full-time position. "If a contract worker has proved he can do the job and fits well with the organisation, he has basically undergone an on-the-job interview," says Mullally.

As the concept of contract hiring increases, Mullally says to attract the most proficient professionals, banks will need to review their payment terms. "At the moment, the pay scale for contract workers is about the same as permanent staff, but without the extras associated with a full-time position. If banks want to attract the best people to complete short-term projects they will need to offer a few more incentives," says Mullally.

Eunice Ng, director at Avanza Consulting, Pacific, says that while job options are open for those without a banking background, financial institutions tend to look for people with exceptional experience and skills. "People are hired mostly for their track record in human resources, marketing, IT and legal enforcement backgrounds," says Ng, adding that people usually move into banking for career development and the professional recognition that comes from working in the banking environment.

Swapna Gurijala Reddy, Links Recruitment division manager for banking, finance and accounting, says while there has been a slowdown in hiring by banks, on an ongoing basis, financial institutions still need to hire non-core finance staff. "Banks still need people with research skills, and will hire individuals with the appropriate knowledge and experience. Suitable recruits could be those with a pharmaceutical or technology background."

Reddy adds that, depending on their requirements, banks would also consider hiring talent from legal, accounting and treasury services firms.

"People moving into the banking environment from an accounting firm would find the transfer quite easy as there are quite a lot of similarities," says Reddy.

She says certain private banks are hiring non-finance people from the high-end luxury products and property sectors for their ability to attract high net worth clients. "Opportunities still exist for non-banking people," says Reddy.

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