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Real estate and financial services to drive 2021 recruitment, work prospects in the GBA seen as attractive, finds KPMG survey

GBA continues to be attractive for career prospects, travel convenience and broader work exposure

GBA continues to be attractive for career, travel convenience and broader work exposure

  • GBA continues to be attractive for career prospects, travel convenience and broader work exposure

  • Forty-three percent of respondents anticipate pay increase in 2021

27 April 2021, Hong Kong – According to KPMG's latest annual survey, an increasing number of respondents from Hong Kong and mainland China (70%) find job opportunities in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) attractive. Key sectors in Hong Kong leading the recruitment market in terms of positive headcount expectation are real estate and financial services.

In its fifth year, the annual employment trends survey report, Hong Kong Executive Salary Outlook 2021, includes views from 702 business executives, 549 of whom identified as working or living in Hong Kong. The report finds that the outlook for headcount, salaries and bonuses has changed after a year impacted by Covid-19 and economic downturn, while career expectations and focus for employees has also changed.

Murray Sarelius

Murray Sarelius, Partner, Head of People Services, KPMG China, says:

With a development plan in place for cities cross the GBA, talent is more willing to be mobile within GBA cities. GBA subsidies to align individual income tax rates between Hong Kong and other cities in the GBA are helping to alleviate the financial barriers to mobility. As individuals and businesses gain confidence in the implementation of the incentives and their requirements, we expect non-monetary factors to become even more prevalent.


For the second year in a row, non-monetary factors, namely better career and industry prospects, followed by travel convenience and broader work exposures, were the top three reasons of Hong Kong respondents to relocate to other GBA cities for work. In 2021, the sectors that most respondents continue to predict will create the most job opportunities in the GBA are innovation and technology (63%), financial services (37%) and professional and consulting services (33%).

In terms of the outlook for headcount among businesses in Hong Kong, the real estate sector led the recovery in optimism with a 31% improvement in headcount expectations (a net 24% increase in 2021 as compared with net 7% decrease in 2020). At the same time, the outlook for headcount in the financial services industry, which is benefiting from very active capital markets, is encouraging, with a net growth of 17% expected in 2021 compared to 8% in 2020. By comparison, although Hong Kong's consumer sector headcount outlook improved by 13% in the 2021 survey on the back of signs of recovery in the first quarter (a net 13% decrease in 2021 as compared with a net 26% decrease in 2020), the results suggest continuing challenges. Only 24% of Hong Kong respondents expect an increase in headcount and 37% anticipate further decreases.

Given the current economic uncertainty, employees are focused more on stability and work pressure than career progression. Interest in job security has increased among senior manager or manager level talent, with 26% of Hong Kong respondents in 2021 naming this as a key factor in initiating job searches compared to 19% in 2020.  There was also an increase in the emphasis placed on workload and work pressure by department heads or equivalent (24% in 2021 compared to 12% in 2020).

Among assistant managers or below, increased awareness of the value of comprehensive medical and insurance coverage was also found (21% in 2021 up from 7% in 2020). Demand for career progression and promotion amongst this group is lower (46% in 2021 and 52% in 2020) and the demand for stability also fell to 23% in 2021 from 34% in 2020. More job seekers at this level appear open to lateral moves and contract roles in exchange for opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge.

As working from home and remote working from overseas have become facts of life, indications are that this will continue and may be favoured by many employees and job candidates, with 61% respondents stating allowing work from home arrangements would make a job position more attractive to them. However, while the percentage of respondents who see the benefits and expect remote working to continue peaks at 70% in some groups, the percentage who say productivity has been maintained falls as low as 39%, particularly among leadership levels.

Sarelius comments: "Despite the popularity of remote working arrangements, a significant gap is visible between the desire for and benefits of remote working, and the perception of productivity – and therefore the feasibility – of these arrangements. A challenge for human resource and operations teams is how to most effectively bridge the gap, in order to broaden the accessible talent pool and improve the success rate of recruitment processes. "

The trend in 2021 is for salaries to remain flat, with only 43% of respondents anticipating salary increases compared with 60% who held similar expectations at the start of 2020, and expectations for bonuses for 2020, to be paid in 2021 were also cautious, with 71% of respondents anticipating similar or lower bonus levels than received in 2020.

This year’s survey reveals that actual bonus payments in 2020 were lower than expected, despite already reduced expectations. Only 64% of respondents reported receiving a bonus, a considerable drop from 84% in the 2019 survey. The average bonus fell from 2.23 months in 2019 to 1.83 months in 2020. Only the real estate and financial services sectors reported an average increase in bonus payments between 2019 and 2020. Interestingly, fewer respondents in the financial services sector received bonuses (76% of respondents in 2020, 84% in 2019) but the level was maintained with the average bonus paid being higher than last year (2.83 months in 2020 compared to 2.63 months in 2019). 

Michelle Hui

Michelle Hui, Director, Executive Search and Recruitment Services, KPMG China, concludes:

Most key professionals expect to remain at similar pay range as the previous year. Generally, employers have tightened their headcount and salary budgets through a number of approaches such as sharing the workload among team members rather than hiring new people. Employers are also more open to hiring less experienced candidates to take on similar roles rather than increasing the pay range for specific positions when making new hires.


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About KPMG China

KPMG member firms and its affiliates operating in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau are collectively referred to as “KPMG China”.

KPMG China is based in 28 offices across 25 cities with around 12,000 partners and staff in Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Foshan, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Haikou, Hangzhou, Hefei, Jinan, Nanjing, Ningbo, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen, Xi’an, Zhengzhou, Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR. Working collaboratively across all these offices, KPMG China can deploy experienced professionals efficiently, wherever our client is located.

KPMG is a global organisation of independent professional services firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory services. We operate in 146 countries and territories and in FY20 had close to 227,000 people working in member firms around the world. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. KPMG International Limited is a private English company limited by guarantee. KPMG International Limited and its related entities do not provide services to clients.

In 1992, KPMG became the first international accounting network to be granted a joint venture licence in mainland China. KPMG was also the first among the Big Four in mainland China to convert from a joint venture to a special general partnership, as of 1 August 2012. Additionally, the Hong Kong firm can trace its origins to 1945. This early commitment to this market, together with an unwavering focus on quality, has been the foundation for accumulated industry experience, and is reflected in KPMG’s appointment for multi-disciplinary services (including audit, tax and advisory) by some of China’s most prestigious companies.

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