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How Hong Kong is back in business

Posted on May 2022 By Selby Jennings

Jamie Thorpe, Head of Phaidon International, Hong Kong

"Those who weather the storm will be the first to see the sunshine," says Jamie Thorpe, Head of Phaidon International, Hong Kong.

With a zero-covid policy in Hong Kong, we spoke to Jamie Thorpe to understand why he thinks Hong Kong is still a place full of opportunities.

Q: From a talent point of view, based on the clients that Phaidon International works with in Hong Kong, would you say they are surviving or thriving?

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the talent landscape with the restrictions making it difficult for businesses to operate normally. We do however believe that the impact will be short lived as we have observed the majority of our clients implement a range of flexible working policies that have allowed them to optimise their working style during the pandemic.

The majority of our clients are large global and regional institutions operating from Hong Kong with coverage across the North Asia region and the majority of these clients remain positive about the strategic importance of Hong Kong as a regional hub for Finance, Trade and Technological innovation. This has been reflected by the consistent increase in active vacancies we are working on over the last 12 months, demonstrating that businesses are still seeking to invest in growing their footprint in the city. It is true that a number of these vacancies will be replacement hires for talent that is leaving the city, however from our perspective, we are covering more growth hires than replacement hires, so clients are still focused on growth.

Q: For someone considering a move to Hong Kong, what type of opportunities will be available?

Hong Kong remains the regional headquarters for a vast number of multinational corporations, banks, hedge funds and private equity firms – so the opportunities are still endless. We have seen far less businesses setup new offices in Hong Kong over the past few years, however this investment is rapidly picking up and we predict that with the reduction in travel restrictions, we will see more growth from established and new businesses seeking to steal market share from firms that have exited the city.

When analysing the profile of people who have left the city permanently, I would say the majority are mid to senior level professionals with families that have found the travel restrictions too limiting to their lifestyle. This presents an opportunity for candidates looking to move into strategic roles in the city as believe that most businesses will continue to require this talent to be based in Hong Kong.

In the financial services space, we have seen a number of firms provide the option to key employees to relocate to Singapore, however if these positions are heavily focused on covering North Asia, the preference would be to have someone on the ground in Hong Kong. We are therefore seeing a large volume of hiring in Hong Kong to replace this coverage and deep understanding of key markets such as China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan are still very much in demand.

Q: What is the hiring market currently like in Hong Kong?

During the peak of the pandemic, hiring activity for many companies completely froze. Today businesses have mostly adapted by implementing new working styles and hiring strategies.

As Hong Kong remains an international business and financial hub, organisations have put forth strategies from a global market perspective. The recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine has presented an undeniable volatility, but the overall hiring activity within the city is still on an upwards growth trend.

We see Hong Kong standing firm as a vibrant business and attractive financial hub. With financial services ringing in a record year, the city proves its growing capability as a destination of investment. As a result, committed businesses are scaling headcount and looking to capitalise on the talented candidate pool.

Q: While hiring remains active, what are the areas in high demand?

Within financial services, we have witnessed an increased demand in the private banking, investment banking, quantitative investing and hedge fund research space. Crypto trading and research is a market that has seen explosive growth over the last few years as Hong Kong vies to become a global hub for this space and we believe this will continue in the years ahead.

Within these sectors, we are seeing more available roles than available talent, which is continuing to drive intense competition for talent in the city. Companies are responding to this by providing some of the highest salary and benefits packages of the last 10 years – with some firms even offering full expat packages to lure candidates from other firms in the city or to entice international talent.

Read our latest outlook on the financial services industry in Hong Kong by Selby Jennings here.

Q: With the recent travel restrictions easing in Hong Kong, how does this impact an influx of talent in the market?

An indicator of returning professionals is indicative in the amount of quarantine hotels being booked until August. With this, we are confident that short-term leavers will be returning home to the city.

Hong Kong remains a critical district for businesses that operate across the APAC region. While China is positioning Hong Kong as a strategic hub, Hong Kong is still an important investment location for businesses that expand across China and North Asia. We have no doubt that investments will pick back up and opportunities will keep growing. This is exactly the pull-factor that will draw mid-term leavers back to the city.

We can classify that the majority of long-term leavers had been working in Hong Kong for the last 10+ years. Given the continuous aggressive investment into the city, it will not be surprising to find out that these experienced expats shall soon be approached by many of my peers at Phaidon International with amazing opportunities and competitive packages. These said individuals are knowledgeable about the market, they have lived in this city and have loved this city.

Q: Why is Hong Kong the best place to develop a career?

The city has yet to return to a full normality, but with the talent outflow – huge opportunities are being presented within the city. I think it is essential for professionals to ask themselves first: "where do you want to be in the next four to five years?" as we believe the medium to long term outlook is still very positive.

We are currently in a highly candidate driven market due to the disparity between available talent and available jobs. This is forcing our clients to be flexible in their approach to hiring by relaxing certain requirements (such as language capabilities), exploring more Junior candidates for leadership roles or considering profiles from different industries with the right skill set. These factors allow for a more fluid talent market in general, presenting opportunities to candidates they may not have secured a few years ago.

And then there is the city and what Hong Kong offers outside of the day-to-day role:

  • Overall Investment in Hong Kong is picking up

  • A shortage of talent means more career opportunities, giving individuals better bargaining power.

  • An unbeatable favourable tax scheme.

  • Compensation packages currently on offer

  • Best transportation network (20 mins away from most places of interest)

  • Strategic location to access key North Asia markets such as China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan

  • Leadership and strategic roles will remain located in Hong Kong for many years, providing a strong career trajectory

Q: Why do you love working in Hong Kong?

As a father with a new-born baby, it’s important for me to consider the opportunities for my son and family. I want my son to have a multi-cultural background in a dynamic and fast-moving city like Hong Kong. It is a fabulous city with a low crime rate and opportunities available at every corner. It has some of the best schools in the world, an incredible sports scene and a great environment for children to develop their social circle. I cannot think of another city in the world that can offer so much to a young child growing up, which is why we believe it is the best place to raise our son.

From a personal perspective, Hong Kong has the best social environment of any city I have ever visited. There is no other city with the availability of world class restaurants, beautiful scenery, globally renowned hiking trails, beaches and an incredible night life – all within 20 minutes of each other. Obviously the COVID-19 restrictions have had a drastic impact on the ability to do all the fun things that make Hong Kong great but with the city opening up, I believe people will begin to remember why they love the city so much and we will begin to see floods of people coming back to this world class location.

About Jamie Thorpe

Jamie Thorpe, Head of Phaidon International, Hong Kong, oversees the specialist talent business for the wider Phaidon International group. Jamie moved to Asia from the UK, travelling to Singapore in 2011 to start his consulting career. In 2018, Jamie left Singapore and arrived in Hong Kong to lead the Hong Kong division, helping clients secure business-critical talent.

Jamie is now a father of four - with three poodles and one five-month-old baby boy - building his life in Hong Kong.

If you want to speak to Jamie to discuss your future prospects in Hong Kong, contact us.

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About Phaidon International - The parent company of Selby Jennings

Phaidon International is a specialist talent group that focuses on placing mid-to-senior level roles for industry-leading clients. In the Hong Kong business, we are a talent partner that primarily focuses on hiring for the financial services market (Selby Jennings) and end-to-end supply chain sector (DSJ Global).

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