Salary levels remain largely resilient: Robert Half launches 2009/2010 global and Asia Pacific salary guides

22 June 2009


  • Global salary levels for finance and accounting professionals remain mostly resilient in 2009/2010
  • Hong Kong is seeking a competitive edge and growth opportunities for 2009/2010
  • Cautious recruitment outlook in Asia Pacific as firms focus on cost reduction and short-term hiring
  • New sense of business optimism in Hong Kong, as companies focus on how to leverage downturn to their advantage and use it as a platform for growth
  • Contract roles a viable option for businesses and candidates in a challenging economy

Hong Kong, 24 June 2009 – Salary levels of finance and accounting professionals are holding relatively steady in 2009 and 2010 while demand for banking and finance talent remains strong in Asia Pacific despite ongoing economic challenges, according to the Global Financial Salary Guide 2009/2010 and inaugural Asia Pacific Banking & Financial Services Salary Guide 2009/2010. Launched by Robert Half, these salary guides offer interesting insights into the hiring environment and average salaries for finance professionals globally and in Hong Kong. 

The Global Financial Salary Guide 2009/2010 provides data on starting salaries for finance and accounting professionals. Currently in its third year of publication, the guide states that average salaries for finance and accounting professionals in 2009/2010 remain largely comparable to that in 2008/2009, in spite of harsher economic conditions.  Certain accounting positions (such as Chief Accountant, Internal Auditor, Controller, Compliance Officer, Treasurer and Finance Manager) are seeing slight decreases in salary, yet these variations are quite small.  This underscores the heightened importance of finance and accounting roles today, triggered by a renewed emphasis on financial management and cost control in light of the collapse of major financial systems, which led to the global economic meltdown over the past year.

Hong Kong is making cautious hiring decisions for different positions, but a number of roles have withstood the downturn including positions in audit, risk, compliance and settlement. Increasingly stringent financial regulatory and compliance standards have given rise to the need for more rigorous audit and accounting practices. The trend towards standardised accounting and reporting systems has also led to a higher demand for professionals in this area.

Andrew Morris, Director, Robert Half Hong Kong commented: “As organisations in Hong Kong continue to grapple with the challenges of the downturn, the increasing need for highly skilled finance and accounting professionals has lent relative stability to salary levels for these roles. However, while demand for this talent remains strong, many employees are hesitant to leave their jobs in this current market, preferring to take a risk-averse approach to their job searches. This has created a distinct supply gap, despite the nature of these difficult times.”

These views resonate with the data from the inaugural Asia Pacific Banking & Financial Services Salary Guide 2009/2010, which provides insights into the recruitment competitive landscape and job prospects for banking and financial services professionals in the region.

In Asia Pacific, employers also continue to be cautious about recruitment decisions. With decreased access to credit, businesses are focusing more on cost reduction and short term hiring measures. Project-based and temporary roles are gaining popularity as companies seek to ensure completion of work on lower budgets and without significant additions to permanent headcount. Contract staffing is particularly preferred for the flexibility it provides. The impact of hire and departure on staff morale is also lower compared to permanent job losses when the time comes for temporary staff to leave the company.

According to the guide, companies typically go through four key employment stages when coping with a recession. Firstly, non-critical contract employees are released. Secondly, headcount for permanent and full time roles is frozen, followed by a reduction in existing headcount. Finally, contract workers are rehired when the economy recovers and business stabilises. These stages reflect the tremendous potential of temporary and contract positions as viable alternatives for candidates in a tighter job market. For businesses, contract staffing brings about potential cost savings, new skills and abilities, greater flexibility in the workforce, and acts as a manpower supplement during peak periods. The use of this type of labour is not only for rank and file positions but also at the senior level of strategic counsel.

Morris adds: “This is a phenomenon we feel will outlast this recession and widen the employment options available in Hong Kong, which to date has been a very traditional market when it comes to adapting new styles of working.”

The guide also shows that Hong Kong is embracing the challenge of the downturn and a new sense of business optimism is emerging in the city. The current economic climate has elicited Hong Kong’s competitive spirit with many firms, especially small and medium sized enterprises, becoming increasingly focused on how they can grow their business during these tough times.

A key driver behind this growth strategy is the access to talent they would not have been able to secure pre-recession and a chance to ‘up skill’ their workforce by replacing nonperforming employees with more qualified and experienced staff.

However Andrew Morris, Director, Robert Half Hong Kong warns: “Securing the best of the best is not necessarily any easier than it was a year ago. Yes, the available pool of potential skilled employees has increased but Hong Kong’s top performers are in just as much short supply as ever.  They are paying particular attention to how organisations are performing under tough economic conditions before attending any interviews and certainly before accepting any offers.”

This desire for growth is also coupled with caution from employers. One other key highlight of the guide is the lengthening of the hiring process, with many more interviews taking place to ensure the chosen employee has the right skills for the job and the buy-in of all hiring decision makers.

Similar trends are present elsewhere in the region. In Australia, companies are seeing a talent shortage in finance and accounting due to lower hiring confidence levels and employees’ reluctance to change jobs. Singapore is seeing some demand for back office functions as some larger global institutions move their centralised back-office support teams to Singapore from higher cost countries or regions.  The situation in Japan is slightly different: while layoffs in Japanese firms have remained low due to Japan’s corporate culture, there is greater emphasis on bottom-lines and employees are now more accountable for their contributions to corporate growth.

The third Robert Half Global Financial Salary Guide 2009/2010 provides comprehensive research data on average starting salaries for 16 key accounting and finance positions across 21 countries. This annual guide aims to help both companies and employees make better employment and hiring strategies through a comparative salary guide across these countries in the country’s corresponding currency value. The information provided is based on extensive research from global job placements by Robert Half, ongoing surveys of senior executives, and the accumulated expertise of Robert Half’s staffing professionals worldwide.

The Asia Pacific Banking & Financial Services Salary Guide 2009/2010 is Robert Half’s first salary guide focused on the banking and financial services sector in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, providing comprehensive research data on average salary ranges for 28 key financial services positions. This annual guide analyses the issues affecting employees in light of the recent global financial crisis, and the impact on recruitment trends within the financial services sector.

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