Early-Bird Salary Guide: Your Wages Bill May Be Higher Than You Expect in 2018

“We really want to be the first with this,” said Matthew Bennett in Hong Kong. The managing director for Greater China of professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters was launching the company’s Salary Survey 2018 report on November 21. It was not quite the first – competitor Robert Half’s 2018 Salary Guide for the US is already available online, although not its Asian edition. Another rival, Hays, is still completing its own Asia-Pacific survey.

People who move to other companies can expect to be paid 10% to 30% more. In contrast, those who remain in their current job can expect a salary increment of only 3% to 5%

For CFOs, Robert Walters’ early-bird guide makes for interesting reading. In the recent past, said Bennett, employees valued stability over salary increments so they tended to stay put in their current posts despite offers of substantial salary increases if they were to move. If a recession were to hit the world again, as it did in 2009, “if you were the last to be hired, you may be the first to be fired,” said Bennett.

But the tide appears to be turning beginning this year. People are starting to become more confident in the prospects of the local, regional and global economy, with the result that there is a noticeable increase in the number of those moving jobs. “We expect the trend to continue in 2018,” said Bennett, although he declines to quantify percentage of workers who are moving jobs.

It’s a sobering thought for CFOs because, according to Robert Walters, people who move to other companies can expect to be paid 10% to 30% more, depending on their expertise and experience. In contrast, those who remain in their current job can expect a salary increment of only 3% to 5%. CFOs may need to scramble in terms of the budget if more people than expected resign – and they have to authorize higher salaries for their replacements.

Selected Salary Ranges 2018, Accounting and Finance

Job Hoppers Vs. Stayers

CFOs should pay special attention to the most in-demand jobs, which include technology, banking, compliance, human resources, sales and marketing, and, yes, accounting and finance. Depending on the market, industry and function, pay rises for movers can be as high as 40% (for skilled IT professionals in Indonesia) to as low as 5% (for supply chain and procurement practitioners in Singapore).

Clearly, the best strategy from a company's point of view is to keep employees from leaving, or at least minimize resignations. That means the company should work to keep the workforce happy

Robert Walters’s movers’ and stayers’ data is not complete across countries, but a sampling does suggest a trend:

  • Accounting & finance professionals moving jobs in China can expect 10%-20% salary increase, while their peers that opt to stay put will get 5%-8% pay rise in 2018. In Malaysia, finance professionals moving jobs may get 15%-20% more, while remainers will receive only 3%-5% in salary increment.
  • HR specialists moving jobs in Hong Kong may be offered 10% in salary increment while stayers will enjoy only 2%-3% pay rise. In Indonesia, HR movers can get 20%-30% pay rise, while those who opt to stay in their current job will get 8%-12%.
  • Technologists in the Philippines, including cybersecurity talent, can expect at least 20% salary increment if they move to a new company, while those who remain in their current job will get only 5%-10%.

Retention Strategies

Clearly, the best strategy from a company's point of view is to keep employees from leaving, or at least minimize resignations. That means the company should work to keep the workforce happy. Fortunately, says Robert Walters, money is not the only driver of the decision for people to stay or to go.

“Companies are recommended to consider the non-monetary rewards and intangible benefits they can offer, such as career development opportunities, training schemes, employee-friendly working environments and good corporate cultures,” says Bennett.

Among the suggestions:

Communicate career progression plans and opportunities to key talent from the outset. Structured training and development plans will help keep staff engaged and on track to achieve their goals.

Offer professional and personal development programs and opportunities for secondment and mentoring. People are keen to upgrade their professional abilities in the face of constant technological changes.

Move employees across specializations to keep them engaged and help them develop new skills, such as sales and marketing people moving over to business development.

Understand what motivates talent from different age groups, including millennials. How do they like to communicate and what might cause conflict? Dealing with these issues is essential to create a strong multi-generational team with different experiences and ways of working.

Recognize that work-life balance, company culture and flexible working can be more important than monetary rewards.

Need for Fresh Blood

All that said, many companies may still need to inject fresh blood into their workforce in 2018 as technological advances continue to disrupt the business landscape and previously moribund sectors like financial services come back to life.

In Hong Kong, “banks that have implemented a headcount freeze in previous years are expected to return to the recruitment market,” says Bennett, particularly in front office investment banking and IT.

Across Asia, recruits with digital, fintech and e-commerce skillsets are in hot demand as companies embark on digital transformation, cyber security and Big Data projects. Interest in professionals with experience in robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning is also spiking, along with those that have expertise in C++ and Python programming languages, and in cloud migration and integration.

“More candidates would consider accepting contract positions in order to gain experience and technical knowledge, while women returning from career breaks such as maternity leave also prefer a more flexible contract basis”

The new requirements extend to accounting and finance professionals. Those with experience in digital projects, automation and other IT capabilities in relation to finance transformation will have the edge. Compliance professionals in accounting and the legal profession are also sought after, as global tax, anti-corruption and financial regulation rules are rolled out.

And finance professionals with working knowledge of IT, business partnering skills and other soft skills continue to be in demand.

Will CFOs need to increase the HR budget so these new talent can be persuaded to join the organization? Not necessarily. Robert Walters suggests looking for junior people with potential that can be trained up in the company.

Another option is contract hiring. “More employers are adopting contract staff as an alternative talent solution to tackle cost-effectiveness and headcount constraints,” Robert Walters reports.

Contractors are typically deployed to help deliver business transformation projects, particularly in the financial services and HR sectors. But companies need to offer them better fringe benefits compared to what they could get away with in previous years.

Supply is not really an issue. “More candidates would consider accepting contract positions in order to gain experience and technical knowledge,” says Robert Walters, “while women returning from career breaks such as maternity leave also prefer a more flexible contract basis.”

About the Author

Cesar Bacani is Editor-in-Chief of CFO Innovation.