Hong Kong Compliance 2019 Mid-year Update

Written by Gina Hui

Director, Gina Hui has led the Hong Kong compliance team for Aquis Search for a number of years and often reports on this very fast-paced and constantly evolving market.  Back in January we released our 2019 Hong Kong Compliance Salary Survey & Guide detailing the salary and bonus levels of compliance professionals across the territory and provided a brief overview of some of the key factors that were driving changes in compensation levels.  

Demand for compliance professionals has been buoyant over the past few years, has the compliance recruitment market in the first half of the year been as active as expected? 

Overall the compliance recruitment market has slowed down in the first half of the year due to market sentiment especially in the investment banking, private banking and the asset management space while the more active players such as regional corporate banks and fintech firms continue to hire regulatory and AML specialists, mostly on a replacement basis. Nevertheless, new headcounts are created in the first half of the year after the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has granted banking licenses to eight virtual banks in Hong Kong, causing a hiring spree in the industry.

Have salary levels remained stable across the sector? Have there been any noticeable trends in specific areas?

Salary levels have stayed relatively stable but we have noticed a reduction in budget for the same type of positions (e.g Head of AML) across the board as well as salary increment has also been reduced by at least by 5 to 10%  compared with 12 months ago. 
Virtual banks and fintech firms are amongst the most active players as they are trying to build out their regulatory framework in order to obtain the banking license from the HKMA. Insurance firms are also actively recruiting after the Insurance Authority officially took the regulatory functions role from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance in June 2017, introducing tighter regulatory requirements for them.

In our 2019 report, we noted that Chinese banks were building up their teams quickly so they could on-board riskier clients, has this proved a lucrative strategy for them? 

This has proved to be a successful strategy as the Chinese Banks are now better equipped with top compliance talents taken from foreign banks and they also have a better infrastructure to support business growth, hence minimising the regulatory and reputational risks for the company. 

Technology is continuing to impact all sectors, what skills are compliance professionals needing to stay up to date?

Compliance professionals not only need to stay abreast of the latest regulatory changes and requirements, they are also expected to understand the relevant technology that might have an impact on their role. Similar to other functions, technology plays an important role and it’s now seen as an embedded part of the process. This has helped to streamline compliance work but on the flip side, it has also replaced certain headcounts, resulting in redundancy.

What advice would you give to compliance professionals looking to make a move in the next few months? 

The recruitment market is constantly changing and could be affected by both internal and external factors such as political and economic conditions. Given that, it is extremely important for candidates to adopt a long term view by considering what they are looking to develop in their skillset in their next move rather than solely focusing on salary increment - which is very common for compliance candidates.
For more information on the market please contact us and to download a copy of any of 2019 Salary Survey & Guides click here.