Bank staff play numbers game as lay-offs loom

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am


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With HSBC and several other banks announcing lay-offs, bank staff are speculating about where the axe will fall next. It turns out many of those in banking circles are crunching the numbers to see who will have a job next year.

Banker friends have told White Collar that '2, 4, 6' as well as '1 or 3' are the most popular combinations being talked about in order to identify the highest risk groups.

The '2, 4, 6' refers to those who have been working for 20 years with the bank, are aged 40 something and earn HK$60,000 a month. These are believed to the highest risk group because of their relatively high salary.

The '1 or 3' refers to the difficult decision being faced by department heads. When they have to cut headcounts, they will either need to give up an expatriate staff member - which including benefits may cost as much as three junior local staff - or keep the expatriate and get rid of three local juniors. The numbers game comes after HSBC this month said it would cut 3,000 people - 10 per cent of its staff in Hong Kong over three years. Globally, the bank has said it would cut a total of 30,000 staff, out of 296,000, by 2013 to cut costs and boost profit.

HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver said in May he would close loss-making businesses and branches as well as reduce headcounts in order to cut global expenses by US$2.5 billion to US$3.5 billion annually by 2013.

HSBC is not alone in wielding the axe. Credit Suisse was reported in July to be planning to cut 1,500 to 2,000 jobs and in June Lloyds Banking Group said it planned to pare 15,000 positions. The whole banking sector is under pressure to cut costs as a result of new international banking regulations on bank capital adequacy and liquidity known as Basel III. The rules to be implemented will add costs and restrict banks from getting into high-risk, high-return businesses.

Another group of numbers that has been bandied about in the past is '5, 5, 5.' A few years ago this referred to the group of bankers who were most likely to face lay-offs - the triple five refers to those who have Form Five-level education, those who are 50 something and those who earn about HK$50,000 a month.

A banker said the '5,5,5' bank staff were no longer being mentioned this time as the round of layoffs cut them out of the picture.

It is a shame that those who are in their 40s or 50s and have accumulated a lot of experience are now the group at highest risk of being fired.

This is particularly the case when the '2, 4, 6' staff are part of the information technology or back office departments. These are cost centres and some of these services faced being moved to lower cost areas such as the mainland or India.

A banker who belongs to this '2, 4, 6' group told White Collar he joined HSBC after graduating from university. He always wanted to work for HSBC for life, and never thought of jumping ship.

But now, he has had to dig out his resume to send to headhunters in case the worst happens 'When I chose to join the banking sector, I thought it was a stable job like being in civil service. But now it is no longer an iron rice bowl,'' he said. 'One has to prepare for the worst.'

Headhunting firms' executives confirmed they had received many resumes from bankers.