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Hong Kong Banks and the Flexible Workforce Phenomenon

09 October 2017

by

 Loïc is a Managing Consultant with OJ’s APAC banking team. He focuses exclusively on headhunting mid to senior-level professionals for Regulatory & Compliance projects.

Loïc has 10 years’ experience, with a varied entrepreneurial background from businesses across four continents. Here are his insights on Hong Kong’s flexible workforce phenomenon…


Candidates specializing in non-permanent work go by many names today: ‘contractors’, ‘temps’, ‘interim workers’ and even ‘consultants’. For the sake of simplicity, I’d like to refer to all of them under one umbrella term: the flexible workforce.

Currently, a large portion of my clients are specifically asking for flexible workforce solutions. Here is the permanent/temporary ratio I have gained from recent client-sanctioned research:

Why banks are increasingly relying on the flexible workforce

  • Cost

Banks are some of the largest and most attractive employers in the FS market, but regional branches are constantly under pressure from HQ to reduce costs. By employing a person for a determined period, banks can avoid paying the price of a permanent resource, alongside all other associated costs. They are also better able to facilitate growth by adopting flexible working strategies.

These financial institutions may decide that temporary resources are best suited for a certain project, in which case they have three obvious options: internal project talent pool, management consultancies and a flexible workforce. The internal project talent pool may not have the specific expertise sought after, while management consultancy could be above budget and too generalist for the task, hence why banks are increasingly turning to the flexible workforce.

  • Internal obstacles

Hiring managers may sometimes have a real (and usually urgent) need for someone with a specific skill set. However, they might not have the time, manpower or resources to source a suitable candidate. Ironically, in the time it can take to find someone, the initial need may have actually resolved itself. In some cases, the hiring process may simply take too long for a time-critical requirement; this process could be shortened or executed more swiftly (i.e. less or grouped interviews and fewer levels of approval).

The payroll budget of a team can also be stretched, and it may be easier to pass off a temporary solution as another cost on the team’s P&L.

  • Upscaling skill sets

A manager may have a strong, well-balanced and high-performing team, but could need a very niche set of skills for a particular project (i.e. transformation, IT migration, regulatory change). From the hiring manager’s perspective, it may not be justified or even beneficial to open a permanent position for a specialized professional on a project need. Again, they could turn to a consultancy or internal pool, but as we’ve already seen, this is not always the optimum solution.

  • Dealing with change

A new regulation… the off-shoring of a business process… integrating a global IT roll-out in local/regional offices… frequent movement occurs within financial institutions, and it often takes a temporary taskforce to implement the change.

These types of projects are mostly comprised of a transition/transformation phase, which justifies a temporary, rather than permanent, set-up – although some may require the project team to sink into a BAU role afterwards.

Why some professionals are hesitant to join the flexible workforce

  • Benefits

It is a common misconception that temporary roles mean losing out on vacation days, medical insurance and other benefits. Although bonuses are very unlikely, in most cases, temporary workers are able to negotiate for vacation days and medical cover.

  • Occupation uncertainty

“How do I know I’ll find another role when this one ends?”

“They could let me go if the project stalls.”

Many of my candidates ask these questions, and while their concerns aren’t unfounded, they are also true of permanent roles. What differentiates a permanent role from a temporary one besides the fact the temporary one will have an exact end date? You can also be made redundant any time on a permanent role, without certainty of your next move. Plus, you’ll have to wait for the usual length of a permanent recruitment process too.

Why candidates join the flexible workforce

  • Hands-on experience, skills and exposure

When you join a bank on temporary assignment, you are expected to hit the ground running. Every project will be different in at least some manner, and the frequency of change in your career will be a great learning curve.

Generally, it’s not the small insignificant projects with little buy-in that get the budgets – it’s the big, highly visible and strategic projects that get allocated the flexible workforce in most cases. This implies that some strong talent and decision makers will be hovering around you during the mission. Again, multiply this exposure by the amount of variation in work you’ll receive, and imagine what that can do to your network and visibility.

  • Remuneration

Contractors are handsomely rewarded for the risk and lack of bonus. On top of this, temporary workers also enjoy greater frequency and size of wage increments. You’re likely to be working on more diverse projects than in a permanent role, which means you’ll have more opportunities to negotiate increments.

  • Experiencing different banks, cultures and models

A few years as a contractor could allow you to test your competencies in various banking styles (American, European or Asian), learn from these different business models, and discover new work cultures. Banks do not just seek talented people and strong skill-sets, but those with experience at their competitors.

My opinion

When the market shifts, it is important to be adaptable and follow suit. The standing and quality of the flexible workforce has increased tremendously in terms of benefits, integration, perspectives, exposure and responsibility. Even the conversion rate from flexible work to permanent has peaked. In a recent survey, it was revealed that over 50% of flexible workforces get onboarded into permanent positions.

Market conditions are justifying it, banks are asking for it, and candidates are opening up to it. Now, we as recruiters need to make sure we offer quality service around it. This is especially in regards to the information we give to our contacts, the efficiency of our own processes and the packages we obtain for our candidates.

We are also in a strong position to provide such solutions, having the same capacity as other facilitators in sourcing temporary needs. But, more importantly, we have the candidate network it takes to offer multiple specialised talents on one need. Let’s keep making quality placements and not solely focus on the short-term wins.

Small tip for the flexible workforce

As a flexible professional, you need to stay ahead of the game. This means keeping your CV up to date and well-polished. Specific skills and project successes are key. You also need to multiply your channels to increase your potential roles pipeline, so keep your recruiters close.

A utopian future?

I’d like to think that flexible work in all its facets will only grow from here on in. Does this mean it could become the norm to work multiple jobs in the future? Imagine being a Change professional from Monday to Wednesday and a carpenter for the rest of the week!

For more insights from Loïc, contact him personally on +85237085528, or loic.andre@ojassociates.com

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