blue suite: hong kong’s banking and financial services market update 2020.

When a new cluster of pneumonia cases was first reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December 2019, Hong Kong SAR reacted very quickly to implement community and border control measures.  

But we did not come up with these measures overnight. Many of our community and border control measures have been developed prior to COVID-19 because of our city’s history with SARS. 

SARS is a viral respiratory disease that impacted Asia Pacific back in 2002 to 2004. The early reports of disease symptoms and transmission patterns of COVID-19 were very similar to SARS, but the mortality rate of SARS is much higher, at 15%. 

As we were not aware of how COVID-19 will impact us, we had our guards up since January - first to protect our community and second the economy. It has been four months since we first learned about COVID-19, and there are some market updates that I’d like to share. 

banking in hong kong - hiring freezes but no indication of redundancy

Externally, banks are lowering GDP projections and warning world leaders of possible longer-term economic contractions due to the drastic slowdown in global trade. Internally, banks in Hong Kong SAR are doing everything they can to keep and maintain their workforce strength, as they want to be prepared to deploy resources once the market starts to stabilise or pick up. 

If banking firms choose to reduce their headcount now, they would not be able to take advantage of opportunities that often come with a highly volatile market. Companies that risk making drastic changes to their headcount will also have to bear the additional costs that would come with re-hiring and re-training new employees after COVID-19.  

Whitney Young, an American civil rights leader, said, “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” 

At this moment, we’ve observed more HR leaders stepping up to re-adjust KPIs to reflect the current economic situation as well as create more high-impact employee engagement programmes to retain talent.

when china returns to normal, asia pacific markets may pick up first

As the situation in mainland China gradually returns to normal with more workers going back to work, we hope to start seeing some hints of recovery from Asia Pacific markets. 

Given the proximity, Asia Pacific countries may benefit from the recovery of trade operations from mainland China. Asian banks, asset management companies, private equity firms and family offices would also likely focus their efforts on meeting local demands first, which would facilitate trade within Asia Pacific.

demand for insurance may increase

When the market is volatile, we expect to see more investors park their assets and grow their wealth with insurance. When they invest in financial products that have lower interest rates across a longer period of time, they are still able to grow their wealth, albeit at a slower rate. 

The current economic situation could be a repeat of the 2009 Global Financial Crisis, where we saw insurance firms expand their product and service offerings three to five years when the market started to recover. 

We’ve observed that Chinese and local insurance firms are still hiring replacement roles to prepare for the anticipated increase in demand from investors. Fresh graduates or experienced professionals who have a broad knowledge of multi-pronged financial products could take a look at some of the career opportunities that insurance firms have to offer. 

the speed of market recovery depends on how quickly we can overcome COVID-19 as a nation

Even though citizens in Wuhan are still encouraged to stay at home, they can now leave their homes to buy meals from restaurants and purchase goods from shopping malls. 

However, it is unlikely that businesses will see an immediate bounce back. Both market and consumer confidence levels have dropped since the start of 2020, and people are still rightfully concerned about the risk of getting COVID-19. Several studies have indicated that COVID-19 will last for at least until 2021. A Harvard study is proposing that community measures should be implemented on-and-off until 2022. There is no doubt that the market recovery rate would be relatively slower compared to the SARS period. 

While the recovery rate itself will not look too different between regions and countries, it’d matter when the market can start to resume operations.  

As of this writing, the number of imported and local cases is still increasing every day in Hong Kong SAR. However, because of tighter community measures, we are able to keep the number of active cases much lower than many of our peers in the region. 

It is difficult to plan for the future when it is still very much a blur. However, it is important for businesses to continue trade operations, even at a lower-than-normal rate, so that workers can still have a sense of financial security. Companies should also have a recovery plan, so that when the time comes, all of us are eager, prepared and ready to get things up and running.

rick chung randstad hong kong

Rick Chung

Director, Banking & Financial Services, Technology and Contracting

Rick joined Randstad as a consultant in 2013 and he leads a team of specialists covering roles in private banking, retail and commercial banking, risk and compliance, banking & finance operations, audit, insurance, as well as human resources & business support.

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