Hong Kong HR head: "I'm suspicious of anyone who doesn't get a counter offer"
They're all getting countered: front-office bankers, finance techies and "even secretaries". Across almost every job function, banks in Hong Kong are offering potential defectors more money to stay put, according to the 16 senior in-house HR professionals from leading international banks who attended the recent eFinancialCareers roundtable.
"We use counters because the cost and length to rehire is more than the extra retention expenses. And frankly, in this market, I'm suspicious of anyone who doesn't get a counter offer. I'd question whether they're any good," said one of the panellists, all of whom asked not to be named in this report.
Interesting, the delegates agreed that the risk of candidates leaving anyway within six months is no longer a good enough reason for banks not to counter. Once a counter offer is accepted, the potential danger shifts to the employee. "If there are redundancies, he becomes the most expendable member of the team because he's overly expensive and is seen as lacking loyalty," explained an attendee.
It is no wonder that counter offers are on the up in Hong Kong - the roundtable reported that, for the last three months at least, hiring levels have been healthy.
"Volumes began low this year, especially in capital markets, where we had soft hiring freezes. In Q2 we've seen a dramatic increase in open roles in my firm, especially in consumer banking, where some RMs are seeing 30 to 40 per cent salary increases. We and our competitors just can't build our teams fast enough."
Rising salaries are creating internal equity problems in consumer banking. "The incumbents look at those newbies who got big increments, or guaranteed bonuses, and they want the same," expanded one panellist.
"People are even debating whether it's best to leave the firm and then try to come back on higher pay. Folk law becomes an animal in itself - the one person who got the big increase becomes the benchmark for everyone in the team," added another.
Why don't you approve?
Frustratingly, HR professionals at foreign banks in Hong Kong say their bosses in North America and Europe often don't appreciate that large salary increments are sometimes the only way to secure good talent. "The sign-off process is actually getting more difficult. Every approval has to go to head office, from juniors to MDs."
Another attendee commented: "I spend half my life on the phone to the States. I always find that they don't get it. They don't understand compensation and how aggressive you need to be to stay competitive in Hong Kong. Even if you have a good brand, some other bank will snap up a quality candidate if you don't act quickly enough."