Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Hong Kong employees at Asian banks expecting strong bonus season

Unlike their Western rivals, regional financial companiesare expected to offer fat rewards

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 9:55am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 9:43am

Many Hong Kong-based employees of Asian financial companies, including mainland banks and securities firms that have expanded their offshore business in the city in recent years, may enjoy a better bonus season this year than their peers at Western banks.

Financial executives at the Hong Kong offices of several mainland firms, including Haitong Securities and China Merchants Securities, said they had received year-end bonuses that doubled their salary late last month or in the first week of this year. Many expect a further payout in the first quarter as part of their bonus for last year.

Asian banks, including major Singaporean lenders DBS and United Overseas Bank, are expected to give many of their staff in Hong Kong a bonus equal to five or six months of their salaries on average, financial industry and headhunting sources say.

A DBS spokesman said the bank would offer "competitive remuneration" but declined to specify an amount.

"UOB will be paying bonuses this year, but we are in the process of finalising our numbers," said a UOB source. "We reward our top performers and employees competitively, in line with top-performing banks."

Another source with a regional bank, who declined to be named because of a company policy not to discuss payroll matters publicly, said: "Western banks may have very happy days, but they may also have very bad days. If you work for Asian banks, you usually don't have a big surprise at bonus time every year."

Such a no-surprise policy may apply to long-established Hong Kong banks, such as Bank of China (Hong Kong), one of the city's three issuers of currency notes.

Executives working for these banks said those in revenue-generating positions might receive a bonus equal to at least two to three months' salary, while those in back-office support roles might get one to two months' salary.

"The bonus at local commercial banks is more stable than at global investment banks," said an executive at Bank of East Asia, the largest family-controlled bank in Hong Kong. "There are less variable factors, such as market performance and deal size, when assessing their performance for the year."

By comparison, the bonus picture at the Hong Kong offices of major international banks is a mixed one.

In 2012, most Hong Kong-based staff at vice-president level or above in revenue-generating departments, such as investment banking, at Bank of America Merrill Lynch received a bonus equal to six to 12 months' salary on average, several current and former employees at the bank said.

Vice-president-level equity research analysts received about two months' salary on average.

It is common in the investment banking industry to regard research departments as cost centres rather than revenue generators, and many analysts' bonuses are linked to the performance of the stock market.

This year, sources say, some vice-president-level staff at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in its investment banking division may see smaller bonuses - about six months' salary on average.