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Are Professional Opportunities in HK Dead?

The Year of the Tiger, which officially began on the first day of February, is considered a positive sign, often associated with the defeat of evil which is referenced in recent writings as the pandemic. It is also an occasion said to mark a pivot toward refreshingly good changes, some of which will be evidenced by the movement of talent in the region.

Hong Kong

Much has been written lately about the number of financial services professionals who, in theory at least, are leaving Hong Kong. This is accompanied by hand-wringing about the “impossibility” of finding successors for them, e.g., those with experience in one or more overseas financial centers.

There appears to be a belief that the jobs that will become vacant by departing executives will be filled by professionals from the mainland, but this is simply a wish. Is there an adequate supply in China of professionals with significant experience in other global financial markets and experience working with multi-national clients? In short, no.  In addition, while some senior-level jobs in finance in Hong Kong may require Putonghua, the majority of them require the ability to speak, as well as to communicate in writing, in English.

Another factor is that many mainlanders have no interest in moving to Hong Kong. This is a stark departure from ten to fifteen years ago when mainlanders were keen to pursue opportunities in Hong Kong. This is no longer the case. The reasons for this are varied and range from a belief that it is more important for one to make his/her mark in China; concerns that a trailing spouse will not be able to find a job (language is usually the key to this); and the lack of a local family infrastructure, i.e., grandparents, who are very involved in the day-to-day life of their grandchild.

As has always been the case in Hong Kong, enterprising and career-driven professionals will come here for the right opportunity to further their careers. In terms of the financial sector, these can most readily be found in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. There are professionals in all these countries who will make a move to Hong Kong for the right opportunity. 

Identifying and persuading these professionals will be more challenging and time-consuming but with the right approach, professionals will make a move to Hong Kong. In many ways, Hong Kong is an easier sell, Covid measures notwithstanding. Some considerations:

  • Rental rates for flats in traditional expat enclaves are declining and based on what we are hearing, there will be a very large exodus at the end of the school year, which will drive prices down further;
  • Trailing spouses, male or female, are also able to find employment quite easily;
  • Hong Kong’s crime rate has always been very low and with crime seemingly on the increase in most major cities around the world, Hong Kong is more attractive than ever.

In its standing as a key financial center, firms in Hong Kong have always had to recruit from outside and this will remain unchanged. It will be a bit more of a challenge and we foresee a transition in Hong Kong from professionals with families to those who either don’t have children or who have children who are being educated abroad.  

We believe the impact for employers will initially be in the form of increased annual compensation packages, and there will be pressure to provide some benefits which many firms have not offered in the recent past, e.g., some housing assistance, home leave, school fees, at least for the first few years of a professional’s move to Hong Kong. 

This is also the time for companies to consider longer-term “interim” professionals. There are many former professionals who worked in the region for years and would embrace an opportunity to return, be it for a year or more.

Asia Pacific

There is no denying that a substantial number of professionals wish to leave Hong Kong because of the restrictions imposed in the pursuit of a “Zero Covid” or “Dynamic Covid” strategy. Most of them cite the inability to return home to see parents and grandparents without a lengthy and expensive hotel quarantine upon return as a key reason. Aside from the cost, contemplating quarantine in tight hotel quarters with very young children is unimaginable.

Despite a desire to currently leave Hong Kong, many of these professionals have lived in Hong Kong or other countries in the region and don’t desire a return to their “home countries” since Asia has become their home.

While the press has conveyed that there is a stampede of professionals to Singapore, the fact is that Singapore has become increasingly restrictive in granting visas. They simply do not want and/or cannot accommodate the number of people in Hong Kong who (anecdotally) say they want to move there. Singapore has also become increasingly unfriendly to trailing spouses who wish to work, and rules are expected to tighten even further.

Thus, this is an opportune time for companies operating in other parts of Asia to tap into the able and experienced talent that is present in Hong Kong. 

Individuals who may not have previously entertained a role in other parts of the region in lesser developed economies are much more open to this now. Hong Kong financial services professionals are experienced in “best practices” in his/her respective functions, e.g., Compliance, Risk, Finance, Distribution, etc. as well as in their business segment, e.g., Insurance and Asset Management, as well as retail Wealth Management.

This experience can be invaluable to regional businesses operating in countries which are not as developed as Hong Kong and who wish to maximize the opportunities present in fast growing markets such as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, to name but a few.

The Year of the Tiger, like any other year, will present challenges but it is those who are willing to pivot that will reap the greatest rewards. These are the individuals/companies who will choose to cease doom scrolling and decide to pivot and focus on opportunities that are present, not the perceived lack of them.

One of these groups is comprised of professionals who will consider challenges that others will not, e.g., a move to Hong Kong or a move to countries they would have not considered previously.

Another group is comprised of senior leaders who don’t have to doom scroll but are provided ample reasons/excuses about why something cannot be done, e.g., hire professionals for their businesses other than Singapore. These leaders must not focus on “lack” but on the many opportunities to approach the strategic human capital they require to grow their businesses in the region. 

There were several moves in Q4 2021 by senior financial services executives, which is very unusual for this late in the year. This merely confirms that there is a high demand for exceptional talent and this trend is accelerating.  We are ready to partner with you in developing strategies that suit your business needs in the region.

written by Christine Houston


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