In Focus
HR & EDUCATION | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong

Tech and finance jobs buck salary stagnation trend in Hong Kong

In-demand programmers and regulatory specialists can command a 30% raise.

It still pays to job hop in search of a pay rise, according to recruiters interviewed by Hong Kong Business for our annual survey, with job movers on average able to demand a 10-15 % pay rise, said Matthew Bennett, Managing Director, Greater China at Robert Walters.

But if you’re one of the lucky ones with niche skills such as programmers and regulatory specialists, you could command pay rises of 30% or more when moving roles. Other industries which can expect steep pay hikes are e-commerce, artificial intelligence (AI), digital marketing, blockchain, web development and machine learning. Job stayers can expect modest overall salary raise at 3% to 6%, according to a report from Hays, with education and engineering roles experiencing the highest increases at 6.9%, and 6.1% respectively. In contrast, hiring activity by international banks may be static in the coming year.

Despite the attractive compensation packages in the tech and finance industries, Dean Stallard, Managing Director at Hays Greater Bay Area, notes that salary growth has stagnated across most industries. So far 2019 has proved a slightly worse year for employees than last year, with 45% of  mployers willing to increase salaries by up to 6%, compared with 50% in 2018. Still, about three in five or 64% of employees interviewed stated that they were ‘satisfied’ with their current remuneration packages. However, only four per cent of respondents claimed to be ‘very satisfied’.

“More Hong Kong employees are asking for raises with two in five of those who do proving successful, the highest number in Asia,” Stallard says.

Tech calls the shots
Fintech jobs are creating a surge in demand for data scientists and engineers, expected to last through 2020, with a focus on machine learning, predictive analysis and NLP, including openings for fresh graduates and junior level employees, explains Cayan Tsim, Operations Director at Morgan McKinley Hong Kong.

For instance, a developer skilled in Java, C++ and .NET seeking a permanent entry-level position can expect an annual salary of $390,000 to $540,000, significantly higher compared to average annual salaries of $360,000 to $480,000 in 2018. Developers with five to eight years of experience can command salaries of up to $880,000 in 2019 compared to just $840,000 in 2018.

“There is growth in the number of hires in AI, data analytics and machine learning,” Bennett says. “We expect strong demand for professionals experienced in these areas to continue into 2019 and beyond.”

Demand is also strong for data scientists and IT architects that can assist employers and consultancy firms to help in client advisory and improving digital footprint. Tsim noted that demand for senior IT professionals will be driven by intensified concern over data leaks and highprofile data breaches.

“Certifications like CISSP or CEH are considered a prerequisite for anyone developing a senior career in information security and will help a candidate’s CV stand out from the crowd,” she says. “A trend new to Hong Kong, but one gaining momentum, is an emerging request for DevOps and Site Reliability Engineers (SRE). The demand is mainly coming from firms that have begun to embrace Agile methodologies and, as a result, seek out individuals with strong programming backgrounds.”

Even contract tech workers can expect large salary hikes. A digital project manager with three to seven years of experience can expect a monthly salary of up to HK$63,000, up from a maximum of HK$60,000 in 2018. Meanwhile, a programme manager can command a monthly salary of up to HK$75,000 from just HK$68,000.

Talent war
Wealth and asset management will drive Hong Kong’s financial services sector amidst a rapid expansion in Chinese high-net worth wealth. A report by Kelly Services shows that entry-level wealth managers in consumer banking can expect an annual base salary ranging from $250,000 to $425,000. Meanwhile, portfolio managers can expect an annual base salary ranging from $550,000 to $700,000.

“Competition in the banking and finance sector is expected to intensify with the arrival of new entrants. Besides the emerging crop of fintech start-ups, new virtual bank licenses issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority will bring telecommunications companies and more into the fray,” Alan Wong, managing director and country head of Kelly Services Hong Kong.

Average salary increment per year vs. Number of job changes (Source: jobsDB)


“We expect a 15-20% salary increment on average for job movers, but in specific roles such as AI, blockchain, machine learning and private banking front
office positions, we expect increments to reach 25%,” echoed Bennet.

Data from Robert Walters show that entry-level investment banking analysts can expect a base pay of at least $650,000, higher compared to $628,000 in 2018. Junior analysts in hedge funds can expect a starting base pay of $800,000, a notch higher compared to $785,000 last year.

On the legal and compliance front, firms are fighting over talent with experience in mobile payment, financial regulations in virtual banking and cryptocurrency, Bennett explains. Compliance professionals within the fixed income, currency and commodities [FICC] are also in high demand. An in- ouse counsel with one to three years of post-qualified experience (PQE) can expect an annual base salary ranging from $550,000 to $800,000, whilst a general counsel with at least eight years of PQE can command an annual base salary ranging from HK$1m to HK$1.5m.

For instance, junior sales and trading monitoring and surveillance professionals can expect a base pay of $350,000 to $450,000, an increase from $300,000 to $420,000 last year. Similarly, an AML manager can expect base pay of up to $1m per annum, up from $960,000 in 2018.

Overall average of monthly salary increments over the years (Source: jobsDB)


Startups struggle for talent
The tight job market will have an arguably more adverse effect on startups that have to compete with bigger corporates and multinationals to attract and retain top talent.

“With regards to salaries, startup companies generally pay a higher premium than traditional companies as they would like to draw talent from more sizable organisations to add value to the business,” says Sharmini Wainwright, Senior Managing Director, Michael Page Hong Kong.

For instance, a DevOps engineer salary ranges at around $35,000 a month, but online job posts show that salaries reach as high as $55,000 a month for startups such as Venturenix.

“We noticed companies, in particular start-ups, seeking to hire non-local candidates under the Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates (IANG) scheme in areas such as fintech, blockchain, big data and AI, due to the scarcity of such talent,” Bennett explains.

In Q3 2018, the government launched the $500m Technology Talent Admission Scheme to fasttrack the admission of overseas IT talent. A maximum of 1,000 individuals is expected to be admitted in the scheme’s first year and will focus on biotechnology, AI, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, fintech and material science.

“Companies are realising that a brand itself no longer sells for candidates, who, with the exception of salary, find it difficult to differentiate between one firm and the next. We are seeing an increasing number of organisations employ more relaxed dress codes, open office plans, hot desking and working hour flexibility to become more appealing to these candidates,” Tsim says.

Though prospects are bright for jobseekers, a fat paycheck is no longer enough to keep employees engaged.

“We have seen an increasing number of candidates pursue work-life balance and job security over higher pay, and many former bankers have made sideways moves into rating agencies as a result. At the same time, we are seeing fewer institutions asking investment bankers to come in on weekends,  alongside soft changes such as providing higher quality food in canteens to promote employee wellness,” Sandeep Mohanan, Senior Manager, Financial Services Front Office Recruitment at Morgan McKinley notes.

For instance, Deutsche Bank offers extended parental leaves to both male and female employees, whilst HSBC holdings offers up to six months of maternity leave and two weeks of paternity leave. Employers are also using various perks to boost employee retention such as work-at-home arrangements, parent/child work day, breakfast, lunch and dinner catering in the office pantry, carpark allowance, no limit on annual leave, no dress code and education allowance to upskill topics of personal interest, according to Wainwright.

For instance, KPMG offers employee training support, enabling workers with no accounting backgrounds to undergo a comprehensive conversion programme which will provide technical knowledge and skills needed for an accountancy career. For managers, the firm has Senior Management Development Centre (SMDC) and the Leadership Development Centre are highly structured programmes, tailored to accelerate the progression of senior managers towards partnership.

Some companies go as far as hiring consultants to provide bespoke curricula for their employees. For instance, corporate course provider Xccelerate was invited by a hedge fund house to train part of their team on Python, data engineering and visualization. Based on datasets from the finance industry, the team created a course which would be useful to the participants on an immediate basis to boost their day-today productivity.

On top of offering bonuses, four in five companies or 84% offer additional benefits to financial packages. Further, 32% of bosses offer an extra vacation day on employees’ birthdays compared to 18% in Asia. The changing face of recruitment Technology is changing not only the workplace but also how recruiters find talent. A survey by Korn Ferry shows that 76% use AI as a sourcing tool to generate higher-quality candidates and 64% of APAC respondents say AI has changed the organisational recruiting.

“AI helps us dramatically enhance outcomes by reducing the time spent on sifting through large numbers of candidate CVs to find those best matched for a particular position,” said Pip Eastman, Korn Ferry managing director APAC Regional Solutions.

“Jobseekers now have insights to the management team or hiring managers, their professional profiles as well as their motivations. This is valuable information during a job interview as potential employees have some idea of what their interviewer is like on the personal front. Likewise, an employer will only be able to identify the strongest abilities and top achievements. Social media is what will provide more evidence of who the potential hire really is,” Wainwright says.

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