Horrific Hong Kong bonuses to open up jobs after CNY as disgruntled bankers look to quit

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If you want to land an investment banking job in Hong Kong after Chinese New Year, your chances of finding a newly created position in an expanding team are slim. On the whole banks are either trimming headcounts or holding them steady.

But don’t abandon your job search preparations just yet. Thanks to bonuses being even worse than expected in Hong Kong, headhunters say an usually high amount of disgruntled bankers will leave their current firms between February and April. They then predict that more vacancies will open up as banks scramble to find replacements.

While some banks in Hong Kong will be paying better than others (here’s what we know so far about individual firms), overall bonuses for 2015 are down at least 10% on the previous year, according to headhunters.

“Many banks in Hong Kong are now only rewarding their top performers and there are more cases of bankers getting no bonus at all,” says Hubert Tam, managing partner at Hong Kong search firm Sirius Partners. “Previously this was Goldman Sach’s bonus style; now we see this trend spreading across other banks.”

Anton Murray, director of headhunters Anton Murray Consulting, says cost-cutting European banks (read Barclays, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank) are slashing bonuses, allowing US banks to “pitch low” – in other words, to reduce their payments while still outdoing their European rivals. “The economic slowdown in China is also a reason managers are low-balling staff as they can say that Chinese economic data seems really uncertain, so they must be conservative with payouts,” says Murray.

He adds: “On the back of this, we’ll see a fair amount of post-bonus movement, more than over the past few years. Because the European IBs are paying very little, and the US IBs less than they should, just about everyone will want to move. So there will be pretty good hiring in Feb and March.”

Nick Lambe, managing director of recruiters Links International in Hong Kong, agrees: “As the bonus season has progressed, it’s become more and more apparent that bonus pools across the top banks are significantly down, which will drive more movement post-payouts.”

US banks will be the chief beneficiaries of this candidate ‘movement’ as they look to hire top-performers from the embattled European players, say headhunters in Hong Kong. But it won’t all be one-way traffic: European firms will still need to replace departing staff who held critical positions, although they will try to ensure the new hires are less senior and less costly.

While low bonuses seem certain to fuel the job market in the coming months, leaving your current bank because of a disappointing payment is not necessarily a good move for your own career, as we noted yesterday.

“Hong Kong bonuses are becoming more subjective this year with anomalies all over the place. My advice to candidates is to become less focused on what the rest of the street is doing and to make sure you feel like you're being paid a fair wage for your work,” says Neil Mackinnon, an equity markets headhunter at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Hong Kong.

Image credit: XiXinXing, iStock, ThinkStock

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