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How financial institutions can overcome the towering demand for ESG roles 

Data from portal Indeed showed that ESG job offers in Hong Kong soared 442% in 2022.

Hong Kong’s finance sector has never been truly invested in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) piece, according to HR expert Steve Parkes. “Strong ESG people” across the globe who could have been considered to fill the roles are already less interested in Hong Kong for reasons like politics and the city’s pandemic response.

“There’s not enough talent. I don’t think the market was prepared for the quantity of people that was going to be required,” said Parkes, senior partner at Page Executive Hong Kong. According to portal Indeed, ESG job offers in Hong Kong soared by 442% from April 2021 to April 2022.

To strengthen Hong Kong’s weak pipeline of ESG talent, Parkes suggested that companies do not necessarily need to hire employees specifically ESG-focused. Instead, they can look for individuals who are familiar with looking into the risk profile of a business.

Parkes said companies can also take current talent and upskill them. They should start asking whether they have employees who can take on the ESG responsibility.

“ESG has certain components, be it risk or compliance related. Oftentimes, people in these capacities are then shifting into an ESG role from an internal perspective,” said Parkes.

The harder way for Hong Kong to address the issue of the widening gap between demand and supply of ESG talent is to “home grow,” which will be up to the universities, said Parkes.

Unable to fill roles

Apart from lack of talent, companies struggle to fill their ESG roles because some refuse to seek help from recruitment agencies given its cost.

“I review job boards on a regular basis, whether that be what’s being posted on LinkedIn, Jobs DBE, Financial Careers. It’s interesting to see the repetition in which organisations are posting the role, which leads you to believe they're not filling them; hence, the role continues to be recycled until they find the right talent,” Parkes said.

Currently, most ESG jobs offered in Hong Kong are coming from accounting and consultancy firms, as well as financial services firms.

This was echoed by Wisely Wong, Business Director at Hays, adding that accounting firms like the Big 4—EY, KPMG, Deloitte, and KPMG—are expanding ESG hiring actively in Hong Kong “in response to the increased requirements from corporates and institutions who are facing tougher reporting rules.”

In April 2022, Deloitte even announced that it will “offer a robust curriculum of sustainability training courses to all 345,000 professionals along with its clients and suppliers.” 

More than a compliance
 
Compliance regulation being the main driver for most companies when making ESG decisions, as stated by a PwC study, is worrying and concerning, according to Parkes.
 
“There's a term being used called greenwashing, meaning organisations are painting a very pretty picture of either what they have internally, or what they're doing, from a financial perspective,” he said.
 
“Right now, we’re starting to see progress in organisations, but what's the longevity of this? What's the sustainability of this? What is the true rationale for it? Are we truly trying to make our world a better place? Or are we just doing it to fill up a certain corporate void?” he added.
 
Wong, for his part, added that the benefits of assigning ESG specific roles goes beyond compliance of regulatory requirements.
 
According to Wong, creation of ESG roles will also leave a positive impact on the labour market.
 
“More roles will be created with more opportunities to come. For example, the front office would require more coverage bankers with relevant sustainability knowledge to step up the game in order to further educate ESG knowledge to their customers,” Wong said.
 
“There will also be an increase in issuance of Green Bonds, leading to an increased demand for bankers with sustainable finance experiences. Research analyst and data analyst will also be sought after as climate change and other sustainability factors will require data and studies to value investment projects. Risk experts would also be needed to further verify and value these investment projects,” he added. 

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