In stark contrast to the same period last year, when the banking sector was riddled with uncertainty, efforts to rebuild customer confidence and an improving economic environment has seen a sharp return to hiring activity. Recruiters report a friendly environment for job seekers in the near future as employers anticipate brisk hiring during the first quarter of this year. For many banks, employee retention and motivation are among the most critical people-related issues, while career development is also considered a high priority. Recruiters also say that banks are assessing which skills will be most important to them during the year and, in some cases, adjusting the salaries of the professionals they are most eager to retain. Eunice Ng, director at Avanza Consulting, Pacific, says that despite the demand for professionals, banks are showing a reluctance to hire job hoppers, preferring candidates with robust profiles. 'Job candidates, at least those in full-time employment, are also showing caution about choosing the right organisations to work for, while unemployed candidates are understandably more flexible and less choosy,' Ng says. She says banks that remained successful during the financial crisis and established a reputation as 'employers of choice' will definitely find it easier to attract a strong response from the job seeking talent pool. Miranda Kwok, China Construction Bank's (Asia) director and executive vice-president, and head of consumer banking group, says Hong Kong's banking sector is competing for the same pool of talent as organisations rebuild teams affected by the financial crisis. To keep pace with its continuing branch network expansion activities, CCB (Asia) is planning to recruit staff across the board, ranging from junior frontline staff to senior management level. 'During the early part of the year, we are definitely in hiring mode. We expect to open another 10 to 12 branches in Hong Kong and Macau this year and will need staff to fill a variety of positions,' Kwok says. She says a strong brand name, robust share price and reputation for supporting employees provided an advantage for attracting top-tier employees. In addition to overall knowledge of the banking system, experience, skills and technical ability, CCB (Asia) is looking for candidates who display dedication and commitment. 'We like people who can contribute an entrepreneurial mindset in building portfolios and developing customer base. As we continue to expand our network, leadership and team building qualities are also extremely important,' Kwok says. The bank provides a wide range of career development opportunities including on-the-job training and job specific programmes. To build a talent pipeline for the future, it also offers a three-year management trainee programme. Kwok notes that staff are increasingly looking for experience and exposure working in the mainland's banking industry, which CCB (Asia) is able to provide. In Hong Kong and Macau, there are also opportunities for the 'right' people to fast track their careers to supervisors and management level as the bank expands its activities. For example, the bank's recent acquisition of AIG Finance (Hong Kong), which has become CCB (Asia) Finance, had added another dimension to the banks suite of services and could create another career stream for employees. At the same time, with Asia accounting for close to 40 per cent of its close to US$12 billion global revenues for the first nine months of last year, Citigroup also plans to continue expanding the firm's headcount. Citigroup spokesman James Griffiths says in response to growth in regional economies, it will continue to invest in key areas. These include investment banking, flow business (sales and trading), commodities and resources banking. In addition, Citigroup has also expanded its retail activities in Hong Kong, opening several new branches, including one in an MTR station, and expects to open more branches creating a need for additional retail banking staff. 'We continue to hire across the region to support our clients. We will be adding in areas such as China investment banking, Hong Kong retail banking, commodities and natural resources banking, and in our sales and trading flow business across the region. Asia is a priority area for Citi globally and we will always look to invest in key talent in any area. A priority is also identifying and hiring the talent of the future and we work with universities across the world to make sure we are not only bringing in the talent of today but also the talent of the future,' Griffiths says. According to Mimi Kam, Bank of East Asia's (BEA) general manager and head of human resources and corporate communications division, stringent regulatory requirements are creating a demand for candidates with risk and compliance management experience. 'It is not easy to obtain good risk management people in the current market where banks are competing for the same people,' Kam says. BEA makes a concerted effort to retain staff by offering them career development. 'As the largest local bank in Hong Kong, we are committed to an environment where our staff can grow and develop new talents. We are also able to provide them with diverse career opportunities through our extensive mainland operations,' Kam says.