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APAC Employment Markets Hold Steady, Despite Global Volatility

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Brexit, instability in the Middle East, military muscle flexing in the South China Sea and market fluctuations are making for global uncertainty that has employers and jobseekers alike unsure of what lies ahead. Nevertheless, quarter three (Q3) employment data shows an overall resilient financial services employment market in the APAC region.

After a marked decline in both permanent and contracting jobs in Q2, Q3 employment numbers show a steadying of the jobs market. Permanent positions increased by 3% quarter-on-quarter and 5% year-on-year, rising to a total of 16,095. Contracting openings remained flat with a change of 1% quarter-on-quarter, decreasing only slightly by 3% year-on-year.

“It’s encouraging that despite so much uncertainty, we’re seeing a relatively stable employment market, with financial institutions continuing to release jobs”, said Richie Holliday, Chief Operations Officer, Morgan McKinley Asia Pacific.

The number of professionals seeking new roles soared by 27% quarter-on-quarter and by 45% year-on-year. A combination of seasonal factors, confidence in fintech growth and concerns about job continuity all contributed to the spike.

Global events underlie mixed regional performance

Reverberations from Brexit ranged from significant in Hong Kong to paltry in China, but for the most part left the region unscathed.

“While Brexit contributed to the erratic business climate, the doom and gloom that was predicted failed to materialise”, said Holliday. “APAC countries are following Brexit with extreme interest, but also moving on with day-to-day transactions”.

With tensions in the South China Sea growing; military bluster by China, North Korea, Russia, the Philippines and the United States is causing anxiety in the region. If tensions escalate, global trade and market stability may be further affected but, for now, business continues as usual.

Japan

Job flow in Japan remained steady, with a 3% quarter-on-quarter increase. Combined with a Q2 that saw a robust hike of 20% in jobs available, the two quarters indicate a summer uplift in financial services jobs in Japan.

The uplift waned in August as the summer lull heralded a period of more modest growth. With some of Japan’s largest asset management institutions, including Sumitomo Mitsui and JP Morgan Chase, announcing hiring freezes starting in September, figures are unlikely to spike again in the near future.

Q3 saw financial services institutions Mizuho, Shinko and Diam merge to create the largest asset management company in Asia, called Asset Management One Co. Big business mergers are followed by periods of assessment to determine which roles to retain, reallocate or eliminate. “When three institutions merge, you have key roles in triplicate, creating an effective hiring freeze in the short term”, said Holliday.

Q3 job seeker numbers were up an astronomical 133%, quarter-on-quarter.

“The last of financial service bonuses in Japan are given out in Q2, making a Q3 surge in candidates standard”, said Holliday. “The extreme surge we’re seeing is exacerbated by the high rate of mergers taking place which is causing professionals to worry about the job security”.

Australia

Australia’s first full quarter since its new fiscal year began in July saw an 18% decrease in jobs available, quarter-on-quarter. Australia’s Q2 spike in jobs available absorbed the end of fiscal year sprint to fill positions, so as not to lose them in the following year.

Having avoided slipping into recession for over two decades, the Australian economy is ticking along, but a general malaise and political volatility make for a confused outlook. Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in in July, making him the fourth person since 2013 to hold the position. Turnbull’s narrow election win raised concerns of continued political instability.

Adding to the confused outlook is the Australian dollar’s strength, which is contributing to a revival in organisations looking offshore for investments, while the ongoing dominance of the Big Four domestic players make it difficult for international institutions to get a foothold on the national market.

Mainland China

Q3 was spent filling jobs with those who had registered their interest to move roles in Q2, contributing to the 14% increase in jobs, and 39% decrease in professionals seeking new roles, quarter-on-quarter. As the financial sector in China gives bonuses in Q1, it is standard to see the bulk of professionals looking for a new challenge register with recruiters in Q2.

Signalling an ebb in the Chinese gold rush, overseas businesses are showing less enthusiasm in setting up shop there. This trend is reflected in a new report by the China Sales Manager Index which found that the Chinese economy is growing at only half of the projected rate of growth.

The creation of a large amount of high net worth individuals means financial services are shifting their focus to domestic revenue sources, as opposed to international ones. Indeed, it is Chinese investors who are driving the fintech investments in the APAC region.

China, however, is not showing signs of looking exclusively inward. It was unaffected by the Brexit vote, and the China Securities Regulatory Commission is in negotiations for a bi-national financial services framework with Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority.

Hong Kong

As with Mainland China, professionals in Hong Kong received their bonuses in Q1, making the Q3 25% decrease in professionals normal. The 9% decrease in jobs available is indicative of a more disconcerting trend.

Home to a number of European businesses and the sixth largest stock exchange in the world, Hong Kong is particularly susceptible to global volatility. Of its regional counterparts, Hong Kong was dealt the greatest blow by Brexit, with some experts fearing it will lower GDP by a full percentage point.

Another factor stalling job growth in Hong Kong is the shift from traditional, location-specific work which is causing financial services institutions to reevaluate positions. Many of those roles, including support services, accounting and back office functions continue to move to more affordable locations such as the Philippines, India or Mainland China.

Singapore

Singapore experienced an uplift in both jobs and candidates in Q3. Jobs available increased by 35% and professionals seeking new opportunities by 58%, quarter-on-quarter. The uplift is fuelled primarily by the continuing fintech surge. Fintech is an essential part of Singapore’s financial services employment market, comprising 50% of revenue in 2016.

The government’s recent stance on limiting the amount of foreign nationals that organisations can hire has raised alarm bells, as the demand for highly qualified practitioners to support the fintech surge is high. Half of Singapore residents were born abroad, primarily in Malaysia, India or China, but also in Europe, Australia and the United States.

Though the government is not expected to eliminate existing jobs or expel people currently working in the country, the government’s new, protectionist stance is causing foreign professionals to worry about about their long term job prospects in Singapore. In the short term, however, Singapore’s excellent quality of life keeps it an attractive place to live and continues to attract top talent globally.

Conclusion

The APAC economies are, by and large, in good shape. The region remains one of the better places in which to be a job seeker. The recruitment sector is relatively young in many of the markets, particularly in places like China, leaving the door wide open for job seekers to forge their careers how they want to, without having to conform to more structured, conservative markets.

Unlike other emerging markets like Russia and Brazil which were expected to boom, the APAC region has lived up to its promise of economic growth and wealth creation. Enthusiasm to chase the proverbial dragon remains strong, even in these volatile times. What has shifted is that the direction and growth is less clear than it was before, and the instability is making for murkier waters as global trade winds shift.