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The bankers in Singapore and Hong Kong who aren’t getting pay rises

The busy(ish) post-bonus recruitment season in Singapore and Hong Kong is not that far away. If you’re going to apply for roles next quarter, now is a good time to start doing your preparation work.

Aside from honing your interview technique and revamping your resume, you should also get to grips with how to negotiate your base salary with banks. But beware – recruiters we’ve spoken with in Asia say many banking professionals are currently being too aggressive with their pay demands. In the midst of the pandemic, even the Q1 job market won’t be buoyant enough for most candidates to have the upper hand. And if you get too aggressive, you may end up with no pay rise at all.

Here’s how you should negotiate a better salary – and avoid the mistakes that other candidates in Asia are making.

Don’t apply for too many jobs at once

While negotiating with two potential employers might allow you to apply some upward pay pressure, trying your luck with several banks is bound to backfire. “But it happens in Asia – some candidates, especially those in technology, might have 10 or more processes active at the same time,” says Nick Wells, a director at search firm Webber Chase. “When banks and headhunters discover this, they don’t increase your pay, they just walk away.”

Don’t rush

It’s tempting to state a line-in-the-stand salary from the outset of the recruitment process. This is a common tactic right now in Asian banking, but it mainly leads to candidates being immediately rejected for being too costly. “So don’t reveal your salary requirements too early on – you may lose your leverage in the negotiating process,” says Maniyadeth Narayanan, a senior executive coach at Persolkelly Consulting in Singapore.

Don’t worry about benefits

When the negotiations do start, don’t get sidetracked by the non-cash benefits on offer. “Negotiate salary first so if you don’t get the increase you want, you can then try to get some other benefits like a joining bonus, a pay review in six months, or a performance incentive,” says Maniyadeth.

Apply this rough rule

“If moving, you should expect a salary rise of about two to four times your last merit increase at your current bank,” says Hong Kong HR consultant Elaine Ng. “So if your merit increase is 8%, expect 16% to 32% to move. This amount, however, depends on whether you’re moving to a same-level job or to a higher one.”

Ask about the team structure

“Find out more about the team structure and support surrounding the new position,” says Ng.  “If it’s weak, it shows they need a strong candidate and you have more potential to negotiate your pay upwards.”

Go gentle on counter offers

If your current bank makes a counter offer you should show it to the new firm. But demanding even better compensation than that contained in the counter will likely lead to the new bank ending negotiations because you’re too expensive. You’re better off trying to get the bank to match the counter, or come close to its terms. “When showing them the counter, reaffirm your genuine interest in the position and re-emphasise your experience and track record,” says Maniyadeth.

Get proof of any upcoming increments

Don’t mention an expected upcoming pay rise at your current bank as a new reference point to push for an increment at another employer, says Howe Yuin Teo, head of financial services at recruiters PeopleSearch in Singapore. “Most of the time this fails unless there’s concrete proof that your appraisal is already done and there’s a letter showing the pay rise.”

Don’t forget the facts and figures

Don’t just negotiate based on what your current firm and the potential employer are offering – both may be poor paymasters compared to the rest of the industry. “Research broad current salary, bonus and benefits trends,” says a Hong Kong-based recruiter. “Look at salary guides to ensure your expectations are realistic so that you’re prepared with a reasonable case when you go into compensation negotiations.”

Add your skills into the equation

Language plays an important part in pay negotiations. Whenever you mention a desired salary make sure you sandwich this request with plenty of information reminding the bank about the skills you are bringing. “Candidates should prepare a list of their achievements to justify the salary increase they’d like,” says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong.

Don’t job hop

If you have a chequered history of moving jobs after short stints this will greatly reduce your bargaining power – you may get a smaller than average increment to offset the risk that you won’t stay around for long. “Job hopping also damages your skill sets and your long-term employability,” says Wells from Webber Chase.

Image credit: unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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