Financial services sector in Hong Kong hit harder by downturn than anywhere else in Asia

26 April 2009

HONG KONG, 27 April 2009 – The effects of the global economic downturn are being felt among finance professionals in Hong Kong more strongly than anywhere else in Asia, but the city’s job sector is expected to pick up well in advance of competing financial hubs in the US and UK. These were the conclusions of the annual Global Financial Employment Monitor study conducted by specialist recruitment firm Robert Half.

In Hong Kong, 46 percent of respondents reported that their company had made redundancies in the accounting and finance departments during the past year. This is the highest percentage among the Asian countries surveyed, with Singapore coming in at 42 percent and Japan far behind at 28 percent. Globally, Hong Kong ranked the fourth highest of all 22 countries surveyed, with only Canada (50 percent), Australia (49 percent), and Ireland (48 percent), reporting more redundancies.

One outcome of redundancies is an increased workload and more unpaid overtime. The survey reported that Hong Kong (42 percent), followed by Singapore (25 percent) currently have the longest working hours compared with a global average of 17 percent. In addition, 39 percent and 58 percent of respondents in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively expressed greater workloads in the current economic climate.

One interesting trend is that employers in both Hong Kong (15%) and Singapore (24%) have become more receptive to bringing in temporary, contract or project staff to bridge the gap in manpower created by redundancies and hiring freezes.

On a more optimistic note, respondents in Hong Kong and Singapore are expecting an earlier rebound in their local economies and job markets than those in other international financial centres. Respondents in Hong Kong (26 percent) and Singapore (23 percent) said they believe a turnaround will occur in early 2010. In contrast, respondents in Japan (30 percent), UK (24 percent), and US (23 percent), predict that their economies will not improve until early 2011 or later.

The job market around the globe is currently an ‘employers market’, with an average of 32 percent of respondents saying that they have no difficulty finding skilled candidates in the current poor economic climate. In Hong Kong and Singapore there are still pockets of demand for professionals with specialised skill sets. For example, just fewer than 20 percent of respondents in Hong Kong and Singapore noted that they have difficulty when recruiting for positions in financial management, and 18 per cent of respondents in Hong Kong reported that internal auditors are still in strong demand.

“I think we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. There is an expectation that the economy will rebound locally by early next year, and this will bring with it a renewed strength in the job market. Meanwhile, there are still pockets of demand for talented professionals with the right skill sets and realistic expectations in terms of their compensation and benefits,” said Andrew Morris, Director, Robert Half Hong Kong.

Finally, with staff morale in corporate circles at an all-time-low, more than half of respondents in Hong Kong (56 percent) and in Singapore (52 percent) said they were concerned about losing their top talent to rival companies in the next year. In contrast, their counterparts across the globe did not agree as nearly half (47 percent) of respondents in the UK and nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of respondents in the US reported that they were not at all concerned about losing their best people.

Conducted in February and March 2009, the survey polled 4,830 finance, human resources, and senior executives in 22 countries around the world.

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