Bankers in Singapore, Hong Kong shouldn’t get too excited about Q1 hiring

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Bankers in Singapore, Hong Kong shouldn’t get too excited about Q1 hiring

Front-office finance professionals in Singapore and Hong Kong should temper their expectations of a big recovery in the job market in Q1.

With Covid vaccinations being rolled out, candidates are certainly more hopeful of the year ahead. But it’s still too early to be overly optimistic of a sharp jobs rebound in Q1,” says Pan Zaixian, founder of headhunters Pan & Co in Singapore. “I still expect to see more job rationalisation in the mature banking sector. The banks here will downplay the reporting of such job losses and highlight their hiring in technology-related areas instead,” he adds.

Hiring in the first quarter in Hong Kong and Singapore is likely to be more active than in 2020, but there are no indications yet that banks are planning to recruit as aggressively as they usually do after Chinese New Year when people have pocketed their bonuses. Asia-focused banks such as DBS, HSBC and Standard Chartered suffered double-digit declines in profit in Q3 as they set aside money for credit impairments.

“Considering most banks have been feeling top-line pressures for most of 2020, they will likely be reining in hiring budgets. I’d expect banks to display prudence during this tumultuous time,” says Marie Tay, managing director of search firm The Resolute Hunter.  

Several banks, including Credit Suisse in its investor day presentation earlier this week, expect Asian economies to recover faster from the pandemic than those in other regions. But recruiters say any substantive recovery in the banking job market will likely come after Q1. “There’s going to be a wait-and-see approach that entails banks carefully watching the first quarter, before deciding whether or not to go in for a big hiring drive,” says Tay.

If you still want to change jobs in the banking sector in early 2021, be prepared to prioritise a long-term career gain ahead of a short-term pay rise, says Pan. Candidates who want a non-technology job at one of Singapore’s four new digital banks may even have to accept a salary cut to get an “early mover” advantage into virtual banking, which is expected to be a growth sector within financial services, he adds.

Front-office banking candidates are typically  looking to clinch pay increments in the 15% to 20% range in the first quarter, says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting Group in Singapore. But 10% is more realistic, she adds.

By contrast, banking tech professionals are likely to experience a much healthier job market in the opening quarter. “Hiring has already heated up quite a bit compared with earlier this year,” says Vince Natteri, managing director of IT search firm Pinpoint Asia in Hong Kong. “But when candidates are aware of the fact that their skill sets are in huge demand, their pay expectations get inflated,” he adds.

Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

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