Market Update

Q1 2011

Executive recruitment remains buoyant in the Asia Pacific region. 2010 saw substantial growth in most industries and headcount expanded accordingly.

2011 has started well and our expectation is for another solid year. Our business encompasses both banking and commerce sectors and both areas seem to be in expansion mode.

There are a host of reasons for this situation, many of which have been included in our previous updates.

Of course the big question is now, what of 2011?

There are no shortages of potential threats looming:

  • European (US / Japan) sovereign debt

  • Interest rates

  • Inflation

  • Sustainability of very modest developed economy growth in face of tighter fiscal policies

  • Where to China?

  • Dramas in the Middle East

  • The list goes on…

Having said that our view is that 2011 is likely to be another quite strong year.

At this point the US is showing decent signs of recovery and assuming no major shocks, it seems likely that the US, Europe and even Japan will muddle through 2011 in low growth mode. If this can be achieved in light of what will inevitably be tighter fiscal conditions especially 9 to 12 months out, then 2011 will probably be judged as a positive year for the global economy. It will be even better if heavily indebted governments can put in place reassuring debt reduction policies, and banks can continue to recapitalize thus reducing the fear factors causing the generally unproductive hoarding of cash by corporates and individuals alike.

Were this to occur and further assuming that China in particular stays on track, we could all begin to breathe a collective sigh of relief and begin to believe that the GFC which has been rumbling on, in one guise or another, since its Lehman peak has finally been put to rest.

Were this delightful scenario to actually eventuate, Asia in general and Singapore in particular, would be in a very healthy position. Developed economy demand combined with increasing Asia domestic and regional demand could allow the region to continue to grow at a terrific clip. Obviously intelligent management of capital inflows from moribund northern economies will also be necessary.

While this is a particularly happy scenario and takes no account of possible external shocks, North Korea, Middle East, the odd volcanic eruptions and so forth, our feeling is that we might very well get 75% of the positives…

Let's take a more detailed look at recruitment in 2011 under the following headings:

1 Banking

2 Commerce

Banking

While 2010 has been a good year for banks in Asia, the general global financial, economic and regulatory climate remains uncertain. Banks and financial institutions in the region are generally positive, albeit cautious, in their capital investment and hiring activity. Asia continues to be THE area of global growth. Naturally, Singapore remains a prominent location. The war for talent is expected to continue as demand outstrips supply in many growth areas.

We are expecting further growth in most areas including investment banking, capital markets, private banking, fund management, commercial banking and custody services. As a consequence, front office functions, across most areas including sales, trading, product management & structuring and investment advisory, and the related support functions within each business area, are expected to be in demand.

Singapore continues to be an attractive location for many global banks and financial institutions in setting up their regional headquarters and operating hubs. Middle and back office functions including, finance, product control, risk management, technology and operations will continue to be in demand. Specific experience in migration, change management and working in centres of excellence, and the willingness to work in different time zones are in demand.

While Singapore remains a major hub location, we are also observing a trend of middle and back office functions (especially the lower end of the value chain) migrating to lower cost locations notably Malaysia, Philippines and India.

As Asia is maintaining high growth rates relative to the US and European markets, we are seeing an increasing number of overseas jobseekers / Asia returnees considering a move to Asia. They are also often more flexible, sometimes being open to semi-expatriate or local packages as a first step into the growing markets in Asia.

The financial services sector continues to be the best paymaster among all sectors in Singapore. The industry is expected to give the highest increment of about 5.1% in 2011 (as compared to 4.4% for other industries). As a consequence, higher attrition is anticipated within organizations that will not be able to meet this average increment expectation.

We are seeing increments for individuals moving between banks ranging from 15% - 30%. We are expecting this trend to continue as banks are prepared to pay a premium to attract top talent. For critical hires, some banks are willing to pay sign-on bonuses or compensation in-lieu (e.g. for shares, stock options).

As a retention strategy, employers recognize that they need to pay highly competitive salaries and provide clear career paths for these employees. Likewise to attract top talent, prospective employers must be prepared to offer the same.

Employers are facing more incidents of employment offers being rejected. Common reasons for rejection are higher salary expectations, competing offers with other organizations and / or counter-offers from the candidate’s current organization. This has put a lot of emphasis on the effectiveness of the talent acquisition process.

While recruitment activity seems likely to be buoyant in 2011, banks are putting more emphasis on talent retention and creation of compelling overall employee propositions. Being an employer of choice (beyond monetary incentives) continues to be an area of focus. We are expecting demand in talent management, leadership development, training & development, organizational development and internal mobility functions in order to boost organizations competitiveness in this area.

Globally, regulators and governments are putting pressure on banks regarding their compensation practices. Banks are required to adopt a more prudent and transparent approach to bonus payouts. This includes more stringent disclosure of bonuses, implementation of performance scorecards in justifying big payouts and claw back policies in the event of weak performance.

In order to align incentives with the long term performance of the bank and to discourage excessive risk taking, most major banks have started to adjust base salaries upward (moving a higher % of total compensation into base) or implemented a new bonus scheme (more in the form of shares or deferred cash instead of purely cash). This has resulted in some discontent among employees and higher attrition though it remains to be seen how this will evolve. The front office will be more affected as cash bonuses have traditionally formed a major component of front office overall packages.

With the regulatory climate evolving and becoming more stringent, demand for regulatory risk, compliance, assurance, risk management and control functions are gaining more prominence. We are expecting further growth in these areas.

As banks are going through internal reviews on organizational effectiveness, we are seeing more strategic project activities that require specialist skills including business transformation, change management, integration, migration, standardization and process improvement.

There is a continuing trend of newly set up boutiques (eg fund managers, private equity firms etc) hiring from banks.

Commerce

Once again "Asia" has been one of the key growth markets globally in 2010. As a consequence, many MNCs that have traditionally focused their best and brightest on their major (albeit slower growth) markets, notably North America and Europe, really are re-orientating to the East.

The net result for Asia has been increasing foreign direct investment and senior management attention. With this comes quite a bit of recruitment in the two functions which we service being

1 Finance

2 Human Resources


Finance

  • Decent demand for CFOs but even busier in specialist areas (e.g. shared services, tax and treasury)

  • More internal transfers of staff to Asia as the region becomes more attractive

  • Attracting and retaining exceptional caliber staff being given priority

  • Seeing more, especially junior candidates, resigning "without a job", such is their confidence in the market

  • "Multiple offers" emerging as a challenge in recruitment

  • Increments running in the 10-15% range

Human Resources

Again the picture is positive.

  • Specialist roles very much in demand especially at senior levels e.g. compensation and benefits, recruitment, training and development

  • Senior generalist demand reasonably buoyant

  • Increments also in the 10-15% range

  • Central challenge is finding HR professionals who see themselves as business people and can operate effectively cross functional

Conclusion

Hiring in this "employees market" environment presents challenges. To be effective, employers must be proactive in offering a compelling overall value proposition including career opportunities, competitive remuneration, conducive working environments, open and supportive cultures, and people policies that are employee friendly.

As ever the employment market is highly correlated to general Asian and Global economic performance. A marked slowdown in China, serious sovereign debt issues or a "double dip" recession in Europe / US resulting in sustained high unemployment and reduced aggregate demand could create an entirely different and markedly less benign outcome for 2011. All will be revealed on the 31st of December 2011!

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