From the Frontline: retention panic as ANZ and BoA fire up hiring

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Our popular columnist from last year returns to cast a wary eye over the current retention battle and how candidates are reacting to it.

A former banker, who now works as a headhunter, she has more than 10 years' experience at leading firms in Asia. If you haven't read her previous articles, click here,

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and here.

And we're back: aggressive growth and increased recruitment are here once again. If the final months of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 set the stage, then it can be safely expected that the rest of this year is going to see much more hiring than firing.

But while senior management at banks in Singapore and Hong Kong consult with their HR teams on increased recruitment needs, retention of current talent is actually their biggest concern.

Retention is a particular priority in the current quarter because of post-bonus attrition. And firms like ANZ and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch are adding a few more wrinkles to their rivals already-furrowed brows by insisting on frenzied hiring at higher costs.

Rumour has it that either of these aggressive hirers, especially BoA, will potentially pay between 25 to 40 per cent increases on a good candidate's current remuneration, especially in limelight areas like transaction banking (and to some extent wealth management).

The banks are working to keep you

Despite the loftiest intentions, we all know that retention has historically been more reactive than proactive. However, banks in Singapore and Hong Kong have recently been working on it more proactively than ever before. Of course this could be a deferred reaction to the financial crisis, but whatever the reason, they are at least making an effort.

Most banks have gone through, or are going through, some sort of compensation restructuring, such as increasing base salaries, adding allowances, or introducing newer and friendlier incentive schemes. The ones who are not doing it will sooner or later have to - the situation simply demands it.

But could it all backfire?

But while compensation restructuring is usually worth pursuing, in the current market, it just might provide the added impetus for otherwise loyal staff to look out for even more lucrative deals. Their salary egos have been raised by their current employer, so they are confident of clinching more cash by jumping ship.

Candidates: be cautious

Employees who have been feeling the itch to move, but were laid low due to the tense situation last year, might try to break away at the first higher-paying opportunity that comes their way.

But here is a word of caution: the timing might be good, but when considering a move these days you must be very careful about whether the prospective business you are moving to can offer sustainable careers in the longer term.

I am thinking in particular about the transaction banking business at ANZ and the wealth management operation at RBS, both of which are busy hiring at high premiums.

The opportunities at such businesses might seem very tempting, but are they sustainable by the bank's infrastructure and its operational realities? Moreover, where does that particular business fit in, not only in the scheme of things within the bank, but comparatively within the market?

Of course that does not mean that you should not take the plunge. This is a good time to gauge your performance and reputation in the employment market, but just don't measure yourself simply by how much money you can extract from a new bank.

To find a sustainable position, look at the strongest players in your job function, and what they are looking for in their vacancies. Even if you are well-equipped for the plunge and all the external factors are happily conducive, it is always a good idea to check the water that will be receiving you.

Daily Dispatches is taking a holiday and will return next month.

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