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2021 Accounting & Finance Market Insights

INTRODUCTION The business landscape in APAC has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital transformation in many companies. As the digital-first economy takes centre stage, companies need to adapt to the changing needs of both employees and consumers. The talent market is in a constant state of change right now, but one thing is certain: accounting and finance talent remains in high demand.     The first half of the year was busier than ever in the accounting & finance recruitment sector as many of the organisations that put hiring on hold last year regained momentum. As businesses continue to grow, we see a sustained demand for finance professionals who can become true business partners and advise on strategic decisions.    Candidates were cautious about making career moves amidst the pandemic as they were uncertain about the economic landscape. Recently, we have seen a greater willingness from candidates to look at new opportunities. However, we have also observed that candidates have more considerations as they assess a career move.    In this report, we explore hiring and industry trends across the accounting & finance industry in APAC, as well as candidates’ response to the current market landscape.  CHINA Gross domestic product (GDP) in China hit record levels during the first quarter of 2021 at 18.3% on a year-on-year basis, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. In Q2, the growth was not as high at 7.9%. Despite this drop, China’s recovery has been strong and steady. It was the first major economy to come out of lockdown in 2020. The global landscape, however, is fraught with uncertainties as COVID-19 is running rampant in other parts of the world.         Like the rest of the world, businesses in China are currently navigating a talent market that has changed irrevocably. Many organisations are facing multiple challenges in the increasingly competitive job market, including a lack of focus on candidate experience, skills shortages, poor retention rates and low compliance with hiring standards. HOT SKILLS IN CHINA Operational Finance with IPO Experience  Candidates with operational finance backgrounds and successful IPO experience are in demand. Employers are seeking finance candidates with a strong business acumen that can manage capital markets and oversee internal finance.    Investment Banking Exposure Bankers with solid IPO exposure in the Hong Kong market are highly sought after. Some listed companies, especially those with VIE (variable interest entity) structures, are considering moving to the Hong Kong capital market. Demand for candidates with this experience is high as a result.   Finance Business Partnering Finance professionals with commercial acumen are highly sought for as companies expect solid data analysis to support business decision making, especially for those companies that are further investing in China.   Digital Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) Candidates with digital FP&A experience are proving popular as companies seek to invest in in-house digital hubs to drive business growth. Technology know-how has become a requirement for many businesses looking for finance professionals due to the ever-increasing reliance on technology.    Finance Transformation More companies are leveraging Shared Services Centers (SSC) or Global Business Services (GBS) transformation to drive further efficiency and cost-saving. Talents with solid SSC or GBS experience, especially those who have regional exposure, are in high demand.   Audit/Internal Controls/Compliance Finance professionals well versed in auditing, internal controls and compliance-related roles are sought after, particularly by listed companies or organisations that plan to go for an IPO in the future.   HONG KONG As we move towards the end of the year, the general sentiment among businesses in Hong Kong is that of positivity. Employers know that securing top talent is more challenging than it has ever been. Despite the chronic skills shortages and changing needs of candidates, employers in this region have remained stringent in their hiring processes.    Demand for accounting & finance professionals has risen steadily since Q4 2020. Companies are looking to hire finance professionals with strategic mindsets. With many businesses working on their sales and growth targets for 2022, the demand for qualified talent is not slowing down.      HOT SKILLS IN HONG KONG Business Partnering Organisations are looking for finance candidates with the ability to work in a business partner role, especially in FP&A.   International Experience The pandemic caused severe disruption to supply chains, while business travel came to a standstill. As borders reopen and supply chains return to normal, finance talents with experience in global markets are highly sought after.    Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) Experience M&A activities tapered down during the initial phases of the pandemic due to uncertainty in the economic landscape. This year, we have seen an increase in the number of M&A taking place, and a rise in demand for candidates with experience in driving M&A.    Change Management Skills Increasing numbers of companies are going through business transformation. Finance professionals experienced in change management are highly sought after to help manage new processes with minimum disruption to overall business operations as a result.     Business Analytics Candidates with strong analytical skills play a significant role in strategic decision-making. As businesses push forward with their growth plans, finance professionals with expertise in business analytics are in demand.   High Emotional Quotient (EQ) The world of work has changed due to COVID-19 and employee well-being has become a focal point for many companies. Therefore, finance professionals with a high EQ are in demand as employers want finance professionals who can lead their teams through periods of uncertainty and show empathy.    JAPAN Hiring demand slowed in Q3 compared to the first six months of the year. Japan is now at a critical juncture with the pandemic and completion of the Olympic Games. We expect organisations to expand their hiring efforts and the demand for new finance professionals will steadily increase over the next year.   Like many countries across APAC, candidates in Japan were cautious toward changing jobs during the height of the pandemic. However, this uncertainty is quickly fading.    Candidates are now more interested in making a move and companies are showing renewed confidence and appetite around hiring. With demand for talented finance professionals far outstripping supply, the most sought-after candidates are receiving multiple job offers. To counter this, companies that have robust, yet flexible interview processes are gaining a competitive advantage to hire ahead of the competition.    HOT SKILLS IN JAPAN Business Partnering Finance professionals with the right combination of analytical and communication skills are highly sought after. Those in highest demand are finance business partners who fully understand the business and can provide the necessary data-backed narrative from which solid strategic decisions can be made.   Stakeholder Management Many firms continue to seek candidates who can build solid relationships within the business and put in place the processes needed to ensure necessary strategic alignments across all functions.   Leadership Expectations of the finance function continue to shift. And many firms in Japan are looking for agile and creative leaders to drive change and transformation around efficiency in an ever-changing and ambiguous environment.    High Emotional Quotient (EQ) Within this extremely candidate-driven market, more emphasis is being placed upon the retention and development of employees. Senior finance professionals must foster positive working environments and be able to lead, develop and retain high performing teams.    SINGAPORE Singapore has reached a high rate of vaccination and we are seeing the economy show signs of recovery. Q2 this year, Singapore saw 14.7% year-on-year economic growth – a significant increase from the 1.5% in Q1. The Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI) has upgraded the GDP growth forecast for 2021 from between 4 and 6% to between 6 and 7%. These adjustments account for the better-than-expected performance of the Singapore economy in the first half of the year along with the latest external and domestic economic developments.   However, the pandemic remains a significant near-term risk and adds uncertainty over the medium-term outlook for growth. The general outlook for hiring remains cautious. APAC remains an important region for global businesses. Singapore is viewed as an ideal location for regional offices due to the large pool of qualified talent with good regional exposure.    We have seen an increase in the number of companies that are undergoing restructuring in the region as well as enterprise-wide transformation initiatives. We continue to see redundancies in companies, yet on the same note, these organisations are still hiring although in more specialised niche functions.    HOT SKILLS IN SINGAPORE Business Analytics To better forecast business changes and assist in strategic decisions, finance talent with data analytics and big data management experience are valued. Hiring activity is likely to rise for FP&A, commercial finance and finance business partnering professionals who have exposure to data analytics tools like SQL, R, Tableau, Python, SAS and QlikView.   Strategic Insights & Finance Business Partnering Firms are seeking finance professionals to provide insights in driving business performance, with high demand for commercially astute finance professionals who possess the gravitas to engage with key stakeholders.    Finance Transformation & Robotic Process Automation (RPA) More organisations have been embarking on finance transformation initiatives to drive process and system improvements. Candidates who can lead finance transformation projects relating to process improvements are highly valued. Accounting professionals experienced in implementing RPA within large organisations are also in high demand. Even mid-sized businesses are looking to adopt such technologies to stay competitive and efficient.    Supply Chain Finance The ongoing pandemic has exposed just how much supply chains can make or break a company’s success. Finance leaders with deep experience in partnering with supply chain leaders can bring value, including financial impact analysis, the evaluation of capital investments, effective inventory planning, identifying and managing risks and optimising performance.   In-house Corporate Finance & Strategy The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities for businesses with good financial positions to look into M&A. Hiring for in-house M&A positions is rising, as well as in-house corporate strategy roles to support both inorganic and organic growth.    Risk Management Increasing economic volatility and complexity have elevated the importance of risk management as a critical function. Companies are upping their efforts to establish a more systematic approach to analysing business risks and opportunities and identifying strategies for managing risk.    Increased Emphasis on Soft Skills We are seeing more emphasis on soft skills as part of the hiring criteria. This includes stakeholder engagement skills, critical thinking, learning agility and the ability to drive change. When recruiting new employees in 2021, many clients have cited communication as the most sought-after soft skill.    RECENT HIRING TRENDS IN APAC The recruitment market is still very dynamic in China, and finance talents is in high demand to support business expansion plans. Many employers are looking for finance professionals to become true business partners and provide strategic guidance. In Hong Kong and Singapore, accounting & finance professionals are increasingly open to moving roles. With the economies showing signs of recovery, finance candidates are in high demand and are more open to seeking new opportunities. When considering a career move, finance candidates are looking closely at business performance to ensure they make the right decision. They are also seeking opportunities to develop and progress in their careers. When asked why they are considering leaving their current organisation, almost two thirds (59%) of respondents cited a lack of career growth and developmental opportunities, according to our 2020 Working in APAC report. The number of finance professionals looking to switch industries, not just companies, has gone up. FinTech and technology start ups are fast becoming attractive options for candidates; however, they will still have concerns. Company stability and funding remain key considerations for candidates. Accounting & finance candidates now seek more flexibility and improved work/life balance when considering a move. The pandemic has led many people to reflect deeper on what they want from a job. Coupled with the surge in remote working during enforced lockdowns, this means many are prioritising positions in companies that allow for a better balance.   KEY INDUSTRIES HIRING NOW The industries with the most hiring activity for finance roles right now include the following:   Healthcare and Life Sciences  Consumer Goods and Food Manufacturing Technology, Digital and eCommerce Athleisure and Sporting Goods   RETENTION OF TALENT As the job market continues to pick up, there is an increased need for companies to ensure they have robust talent retention strategies in place. In this highly competitive market, it is more important than ever to regularly review your Employee Value Proposition (EVP).   Organisations with a compelling EVP have an advantage over the competition as they will find it much easier to successfully attract highly qualified candidates and retain their best employees. Employers that take steps to foster environments where employees feel safe, valued and empowered will be better able to retain their talent.   WHAT DO CANDIDATES LOOK FOR IN A COMPANY?  As the job market continues to see greater recovery, candidates are considering several key factors when assessing a career move:       RECENT PLACEMENTS   ROLE ORGANISATION LOCATION     COO Global Leading Service Provider China Pre-IPO CFO China Leading Biotech Company China Pre-IPO CFO China Leading Consumer Company China CFO Global Healthcare Company China Pre-IPO Finance VP Leading High-Tech Company China Corporate Development Director Global Leading Chemical Company China Risk Management Associate Director Global Food & Beverage Company China Senior Accounting Project Manager Global FMCG Company China Senior Strategy Manager US Leading Manufacturing Company China Commercial Finance Manager Global Leading FMCG Company China VP, Finance, APAC UK Footwear Brand Hong Kong Head of Treasury US FinTech Company Hong Kong Financial Controller US FinTech Company Hong Kong Senior Financer Manager Asian Travel Company Hong Kong Finance Manager Asian Travel Company Hong Kong              FP&A Manager Asian Professional Services Company                                Hong Kong Regional Finance Director Global Multinational Company Singapore Regional Finance Director Global Pharmaceutical Multinational Singapore APAC Finance Director European Logistics Multinational Singapore Finance Director US Multinational Company Singapore VP, Finance Business Partner Leading eCommerce Company Singapore Financial Controller Singaporean Healthcare Company Singapore Regional Senior Manager, FP&A US Multinational Company Singapore Senior Manager, Compliance, Governance & Risk                           Singaporean Healthcare Company Singapore Operation Risk Manager Technology Start-up Singapore Treasury Manager European Multinational Company Singapore Business Process Advisory Manager Global Multinational Company Singapore                                                                                     KEY CONTACTS For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Accounting & Finance team:   Singapore Office - please contact Yvonne Goh Hong Kong Office - please contact Paul Shelton China Offices - please contact Sophia Sun Japan Office - please contact Hiro Azuma Click here to download the full report.
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The Only Way is Tech: Why Digital Skills are still in High Demand in APAC

2021 APAC Digital & Technology Market Update Digital and technology skills continue to be in high demand across Asia Pacific (APAC). The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the need for tech talent in the wider APAC region, as it forced many organisations to prioritise digital transformation. Bringing forward digital capabilities was business-critical for many companies. The overnight shift to remote working played a major part, while others had to revert to online sales models to keep up with consumer demand. Not only that, 70% of the population is now online and 94% of new digital service consumers intend to continue with the service post-pandemic, research from e-Conomy SEA revealed.   Meanwhile, in Singapore, the region, often dubbed the Silicon Valley of Asia, is a fertile ground for start-ups and tech investments thanks to its data-friendly policies (strict governance and compliance) and free trade agreements. The government also plays an active role in attracting funds, driving investments and incentivising start-ups. In fact, Singapore has more than 150 venture capital funds, incubators and accelerators, according to the Singapore Economic Development Board. ​ And it’s not just the prioritisation of digital transformation programs. The timescales for completion have also been condensed, in some cases by several years. This means digital and technology skills are arguably more highly sought after than ever before, with the most in-demand positions include both technical and commercial roles.   Globally, tech talent has always been in short supply and APAC is no different. Our lives are becoming ever more digitized which means tech talent is even more critical. From software engineers to cybersecurity experts, all are in demand.   To continue to build a successful tech ecosystem throughout Asia, more investments in education and resources are required, along with infrastructure, governance and the right talent pool. The work-from-home technology surge Although many businesses have returned to the office, some regions in APAC have adopted a more flexible approach to working. Australia, for example, is very much open to retaining many of the flexible working elements it introduced during the height of the pandemic. However, in China, it’s business as usual, and many organisations returned to the office last year. Singapore and Hong Kong have welcomed a more flexible approach and it seems like this will be the case in the future, our research suggests. Both regions have reinstated working virtually, albeit temporary, over the past few months to help control surges in COVID-19.   With remote working showing no signs of stopping, organisations across the globe must keep pace with the technological needs of this new standard of work. Whether it’s increasing cybersecurity efforts, transitioning to the cloud, or producing new collaborative tech tools, the competition for skilled digital and technology professionals will remain high for the foreseeable future.​ In-demand technical skills​ IT Operations: People working in roles within IT Operations are, simply put, the unsung heroes of the pandemic. The critical need to work from home during the pandemic meant demand for these roles (infrastructure, application and cybersecurity) soared. A good IT leader plays the role of a “stitcher”, in other words, they have the ability to integrate the various processes seamlessly based on the business needs. So, he or she is a strong project leader.   Engineering: Software, mobile and data engineering skills have been in high demand because of the robust growth within the internet economy. Companies, both within the traditional economy and start-ups, are racing ahead to develop the next blockbuster product/platform within the online ecosystem. Beyond the technicalities of the function, a good engineering leader is also someone with sound business acumen. Companies seek to marry those two traits when hiring for such talent, which is why they are in such high demand.   UX/UI: Due to the pandemic and soaring consumer demand, the shift in digital operations is as high as it has ever been in recent years. With this shift comes a heightened emphasis on ensuring the customer’s digital journey is flawless. Candidates with these skillsets have always been in high demand, and there has been a notable increase in recent months.   What types of companies are hiring?  There are four main segments: Large multinational companies in traditional economies going through digital transformation Organisations in the internet economy Start-ups (Series A and beyond) The public sector - GovTech in Singapore is leading the charge in this area Challenges It’s fair to say that there has always been a severe shortage of digital and tech skills; however, this has become increasingly more apparent. Today, most companies can be classed as tech businesses due to the amount of technology relied upon in their day-to-day processes.   To keep pace with technological change, the number of workers applying digital skills in certain APAC regions (Singapore, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea) will rise five-fold from 149 million workers today to 819 million workers in 2025, research from Amazon Web Services (AWS) revealed. The report suggests that the average worker across these regions will need to gain seven new digital skills by 2025, and 5.7 billion digital skill trainings will be required.   With the soaring demand for digital and technology skills, employers in the APAC region are all courting the same pool of candidates. Top tips on how to access digital talent A robust employee value proposition (EVP) that aligns with the employment brand is key to position as an employer of choice. It is also worth remembering that people with digital and technology skillsets are driven by the opportunity to learn. Money isn’t their main driver - they want to be able to make a real difference. Other tips to attract this pool of talent include:   Attracting new talent with ongoing learning and development programs. Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, so candidates want the opportunity to learn and develop. Showcasing learning and development programmes and certifications via employment brand can help attract this segment of talent. Develop comprehensive graduate talent and early career programmes to benefit from emerging talent. Partner with educational institutes to create a pipeline of talent. Develop talent communities and keep engagement levels high with relevant content that’s personalised. This allows organisations to showcase their employment brands. Transition consultants and contractors into full-time roles. This isn’t always easy. Companies should cater their employment brands to showcase the innovative projects and company missions that might convert freelancers. Remember, pay and benefits may be appealing, but meaningful opportunity is a requirement for a lot of consultants. Cross-training existing IT employees to have the skills to pivot into other roles. Recent Placements ROLE ORGANISATION Product Manager, Cloud Singaporean Technology Company Senior Manager, Automation Projects Enterprise Architect, Cloud                Singaporean Technology Company Chief Information Officer SVP, Cybersecurity Singapore-based Conglomerate Regional IT Director Global Manufacturing Company Manager, IT Solution Architect Global Manufacturing Company Regional Technology Risk & Security Manager, Asia Pacific US Global Commodity Company Global IT Director, Applications Global Provider of Technology Services, Products & Solutions             Regional IT Director Global Education Group Director, Retail IS&T, APAC Global Consumer Electronics Company AD, Cybersecurity Solution Architect Portfolio Investment Group Regional IT Security Manager, APAC European Shipping and Logistics Company Chief Information Officer Singaporean FMCG Manufacturing Company Program Manager, Agile Coach Blockchain Technology Startup Senior IT Security Manager Asian Airlines & Aviation Company Engineering Director Geospatial Analytics Company IT Director Global Optoelectronics Manufacturing Company Online Business Director Global FMCG Company Chief Digital Officer Global Asset Manager E-commerce & New Channels Manager, APAC Global Oil & Gas Company APAC Digital Transformation Manager Global Oil & Gas Company   Key Contacts   For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Digital & Technology team: Singapore Office - please contact Karen Yap Hong Kong Office - please contact Paul Shelton Shanghai Office - please contact Paul Loo Beijing Office - please contact Nicole Li     Click here to download the full report.
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The Seismic Shift of 2021: free cans of soda won't buy my loyalty

As the demand for talent becomes increasingly more competitive, Profile Director Amanda Clarke highlights the need for authenticity and empathy in the workplace as more employees consider making a move. Simon Sinek, the performance coach, said, “working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress, working hard for something we love is called passion”.  Over the last 17 years working in recruitment, I have met people from all over the world who, for one reason or another, simply don’t like the companies they work for. Some don’t believe they have enough opportunity to progress, others feel undervalued, many dislike their firm’s culture or politics, and several cite poor managers. When you break it down and think about it closely, companies (and colleagues) have an obligation to make sure that, at the very least, we gain some enjoyment from our daily working lives. While employers may not be able to change job content and deliverables, they can make the environment within which employees work a whole lot better. That doesn’t mean we need all the office extras – like bean bags and subsidised canteens - but rather, if employers want our commitment, they will have to show they have our backs.  Each year we carry out various surveys on working lives in Asia Pacific. Of over 2,000 respondents in Asia Pacific who filled out our Working in Asia 2021 survey, circa 50% said they were open to leaving their companies in the next six months (down from around 70% in previous years). While around half of the respondents cited ‘lack of career development’, a whopping 31% said they wanted to leave because they don’t feel ‘appreciated or recognised’ for the work they do. Similarly, of those wanting to stay in their organisation (aside from the ‘uncertain market conditions’ quoted by many), 40% confirmed it was thanks to the ‘enjoyable and productive culture’ and because they felt ‘appreciated or recognised’ (35%).  Quite clearly, being valued and recognised plays a significant role in whether employees stay or leave their firms. And notably, these motivators scored higher than their interest in financial rewards (both to stay and leave).  So, what makes an employee enjoy their firm’s culture and feel appreciated and recognised?  Over the years, I have seen more and more stuff presented to enhance the office environment – from in-house drinks bars and yoga rooms to pianos and pinball machines; one even has a DJ booth and a Mahjong room. But does this make us happy? Does it mean we enjoy our jobs more and feel valued? Maybe. Possibly. Is it sustainable longer-term? I don’t think so.  2021 is seeing a seismic shift. A recognition that the stuff isn’t as important as more holistic values and needs: our wellbeing, our sense of inclusiveness, our time. Forward-thinking companies are beginning to review their medical plans and offering better benefits to same-sex partners, improved maternity/paternity leave, vaccinations, flexi-work, meditation apps, sabbaticals, and more. Will it retain us in these firms? It will certainly help. As the last eighteen months has dramatically shown, the world is evolving all the time – and so are we. We are constantly developing what we need and what makes us engaged and productive, so employers must be empathetic and walk with us; share our wins and losses together. Leaders are starting to acknowledge that they must be truly authentic. They need to be visible, even fallible – they need to imbue kindness and show they care.  Employees, in turn, will more readily feel the office is a safe environment where they can voice concerns and where their feedback is valued. And it is in feeling valued, appreciated, and safe that we can grow. And it is then that we feel loyal. So, the leaders of every organisation should know that employees of 2021 are a lot more demanding with an increasing list of expectations for their working environment. Yet, while they might enjoy the office extras, what they really want is your guidance, trust, support and, ultimately, kindness.  As we think through employee loyalty and engagement, it’s important to point out that as some employees start or continue to work from home more often, they will view their office space differently. As firms look to readdress space planning and employees potentially desk-share, perhaps they will feel less attachment to their physical surroundings. After all the years of carefully curating office spaces, free cans of soda in the pantry may not matter anymore. And if that is the case, it will be even more important that employees feel loyal to the people with whom they work, because it will be – as it’s always been – the main reason employees will be committed to stay. 
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Flexible working – where are we now in APAC and what does the future hold?

It has now been well over 12 months since the start of the global pandemic and many of us in the region have been in and out of our office environments more times than we can remember - WFH was probably the most used acronym of 2020. In December 2019 there were around 10 million participants in Zoom meetings globally per day. Four months later this had jumped to 300 million.    What it has given us is a lot of time to reflect on what works for us personally - whether we would like working from home (WFH) to be the new normal, or whether we miss the buzz of the office when we’re not there.   Although it has been one of the most written about topics since early last year most articles and blogs are focused on other parts of the world, particularly Europe and the US.    But what are people thinking in Asia Pacific, and are there differences within the region?   Since COVID-19 started to spread across the region, we conducted two surveys focusing on areas in which our working lives have been affected by the pandemic, one in April 2020, and a follow-up survey in March this year. For the latter we had 2,000 professionals fill in the survey - click here to see the breakdown of the respondents, a very similar population to the survey from last year.          What we saw from the survey a year ago is that there are big differences regionally. In mainland China, for example, people flooded back to offices in June last year and very few staff worked from home after that. In Australia however, appetites have been whetted and it looks like flexible work, in general, will be adopted more broadly than it was pre-pandemic. Hong Kong and Singapore on the other hand seem to be in the middle of these two when it comes to adopting more flexible working practices in the future.   From multiple conversations that I’ve had with professionals based in mainland China on this topic over the last few months, I have noticed that certain reasoning comes up again and again as to why WFH hasn’t proved particularly popular in China. Many of the points revolve around productivity, or the lack of it whilst WFH. Lack of space, multi-generational households and poor internet speeds have all been mentioned, and these have come up also in Hong Kong and Singapore as reasons to head back to the office. In Australia, these issues tend to be less of a problem.    From our April 2020 survey the following graph illustrates this point well:      If you have been working from home because of COVID-19, how productive do you feel you’ve been in comparison to if you were working in an office environment?    ​   Another factor is that WFH, and indeed flexible working generally, weren’t as highly adopted in mainland China before COVID-19 broke, with its hard work, ‘996’ (9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week) culture centred around the office, and not at home. Flexible working was on the rise several years before the pandemic in other parts of APAC.   To what extent does trust play a factor in all of this? In our March 2021 survey, we asked respondents, rather cheekily, “To what extent do you feel your co-workers, when working from home as part of your company’s COVID-19 contingency plan, have taken advantage of their flexible arrangement and haven’t fulfilled their responsibilities as expected?” The results were quite revealing and could go part of the way to explain why WFH doesn’t hold too much of a future in China, and to some degree, Hong Kong and Singapore.             With less experience of WFH, pre-COVID, in China this might not be surprising. But what is surprising is the fact that, according to multiple studies including our own data from last year, we are working longer hours when we WFH. In fact, according to one global survey, we are working, on average, 50 more minutes a day. One extensive study in 2014 carried out by Stanford University of call centre workers in China found that staff worked longer shifts and had a 13% increase in performance when they WFH.   Despite this data, the common perception remains that when you work from home you are skiving off. This seems to be particularly prevalent in Asia.   In case you’re wondering, we did ask respondents themselves about their propensity to shirk their responsibilities while working at home and 32% confessed to taking advantage to a large or to some extent, across the region. When commenting on their colleagues the average in Asia Pacific was 46%.    In the US, although the pandemic is likely to act as a catalyst towards more staff WFH and more flexible working generally, there are some companies that don’t seem to be following that track. In February this year David Solomon, the CEO at Goldman Sachs, labelled WFH as an “aberration” and not the “new normal” that many have predicted it will be. The CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, called remote working “pure negative” late last year and called for his staff to return to the office “12 hours after a vaccine is approved.”    These approaches have very much gone against the grain in the US and Europe. Think of Microsoft letting their employees know, in October last year, that they will have the option of WFH permanently, with manager approval, if they so desire. Facebook, Spotify and Twitter have done the same. PwC announced recently that staff could start work as early or as late as they wanted, and work from home a couple of days a week.   It seems though that, in Asia, the contrary views of Messrs. Soloman and Hastings may not be far from the post-COVID reality here.    Distrust and poor home working environment aside, there are other factors at play that will mean that Asia will boomerang back to the “old normal” post-COVID, as we have already seen in China, many of which are culturally orientated. Dig deeper into David Solomon’s thought process and this becomes evident; “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative, apprenticeship culture, this (WFH) is not ideal for us.“ Simply put there are ways that offices can create a corporate culture that certainly can’t be done WFH, working through a screen. Communicating an organisation’s values is done far more easily face-to-face.    The office also offers myriad other benefits from straightforward things like providing structure and routine to one’s day, to providing a source of friends and fun, to real purpose. Some have seen it as a source of comfort and refuge when life isn’t going their way in other areas. For managers, it’s harder to pick up on how staff are feeling when interactions aren’t in person. Brainstorming / problem-solving tasks are harder to do remotely as shared ideas, energy and creativity can be lost.  Yes, WFH does circumvent the need to commute and you certainly get fewer interruptions but going to an office and interacting with others does provide variety and a chance to leave work behind at the end of the day, unlike WFH, which offers no escape.   Zoom fatigue has been on the rise too. With key non-verbal communication lost, video call attendees tend to exaggerate their facial cues, and also speak 15% louder than they do in person, both of which are tiring. Video call transmission gaps of just 1.2 seconds have been shown to make attendees seem less friendly, attentive and conscientious.    It has also been stressful for many being forced to lock eyes with other meeting attendees as well as being close up to them. Research by Stanford University compared the experience to being in a lift that’s at full capacity where you are not allowed to avert your gaze. People’s faces on video calls are the same as if you were standing half a metre apart from them according to the study.    A survey by Washington University found that People spent 40% of their time looking at their own face on the video call screen, which hasn’t been good for people’s self-esteem. Another study pointed to the fact that a third of women said they were talked over, interrupted or ignored more frequently during a virtual meeting than in face-to-face ones.    WFH might also affect people’s promotional prospects. When some team members are developing in-person relationships with managers in the office, will remote workers feel disadvantaged? As IBM’s chief executive Arvind Krishna put it, “When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be. If they want to become a people manager, if they want to get increasing responsibilities, or if they want to build a culture within their teams, how are we going to do that remotely?”    As evidenced, we are also working longer hours if we choose to WFH. I doubt very much that organisations will compensate for the extra hours worked and quite frankly it’s hardly surprising that bosses are keen for staff to work at home - not only are their subordinates working harder, but it also saves on rent. Steering employees towards WFH may not be a sign of altruism and good feeling on the part of the organisation, it might well have a sharp commercial edge to it.           ​Although China seems to be very much at one end of the spectrum when it comes to where employees prefer to work, Hong Kong and Singapore seem to be headed towards a more hybrid approach where people have the option of working in an office or WFH. From a survey we conducted just before the pandemic, in January 2020, within which we serendipitously asked questions about flexible working, we found that people were simply very keen to have the freedom to choose where and when they did their work. Not that many wanted to work from home permanently, but many simply wanted more fluidity.      Which flexible working options are the most important or appeal most to you? (Data gathered pre-COVID-19)      What has become very evident during the last 12 months is that we are all very different in our thought process when it comes to working in an office versus our homes, as well as understanding what makes us more productive and happier. Individual needs can vary broadly within an organisation so companies that listen to their staff will be the ones to retain them.  This will become key as job markets around the world continue to pick up. 
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Profile Legal & Compliance Market Update 2021

As our clients and candidates get used to the new normal in APAC, we’ve seen a surge in hiring so far in 2021. This was expected and is mainly driven by two things. Firstly, the pent-up demand from clients that paused hiring and held back headcounts in 2020, followed by optimism for the year ahead as the world recovers from the global pandemic. We expect China to continue its growth trajectory in hiring, particularly as many multinational companies have started to move some of their regional layers to the mainland, adding to domestic growth. We are also seeing a rise in “out-of-the-box” hires as clients are more open to recruiting from outside their industries. SIX HIRING TRENDS ACROSS APAC 1. DIGITAL, DIGITAL AND MORE DIGITAL The urgency to advance tech during the pandemic has meant that from a digital perspective, organisations have had to adapt at a rate like never before. And to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change, the number of people applying with digital skills in APAC is set to see a five-fold increase (and then some) from 149 million workers today to 819 million in 2025. To achieve this level of skilling in the region, the average worker will need to gain seven new digital skills by 2025, research from Amazon Web Services suggested. As a result, lawyers with technology exposure and/or the ability to support digitalisation initiatives are in high demand, everywhere. Many legal teams have been working hard to sharpen their digital skills throughout the pandemic, with the ability to not just conduct data analysis, but present it using data visualisation, transforming how they work by providing invaluable insight. We expect this demand to continue over the coming months as businesses continue to get used to the new normal. APAC is home to more than half of the world's internet users and according to estimates, 60% of the APAC region's GDP will be derived from digital products or services in 2021, with technologies adding 0.8% annual to GDP. 2. CANDIDATES ARE LOOKING A lot of the workers who were fearful about changing jobs in 2020 because they didn’t want to be the “last in, first out”, are now willing to look elsewhere. The new normal is now, well, normal. And we’re seeing an uptick from the previous year (April 2020) in the number of professionals across APAC who intend to leave their current organisation within the next six to nine months. Further, based on our annual surveys of over 3,000 professionals across APAC, our research from March 2021 showed that of those who have made a career move recently, 44% said it was due to a lack of career growth and developmental opportunities. As a result, organisations will need to ensure they develop and implement robust training programs and communicate this to jobseekers via their recruitment marketing activities.    % of respondents who indicated an intention to leave their current organisation in the near future 3. OUT-OF-THE-BOX HIRES RISING Those in General Counsel and Head of Compliance roles are increasingly willing to hire from outside their industries. They are also focusing less on technical expertise and favouring stakeholder engagement skills instead. This is because the disruption associated with the pandemic meant many legal counsel professionals took on the role of strategic leaders and advisors within their businesses, and this will only carry on. Stakeholder engagement skills are now viewed as a desirable, if not key skill, as a result. 4. CAPITAL MARKETS BACK IN VOGUE Firms are getting back to capital markets to fundraise. In addition, the ongoing volatility of global markets, coupled with the recent economic tensions between China and the US, will no doubt increase the number of local Chinese companies listed in the US seeking a secondary listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. This means that legal counsels with capital markets experience will carry on being highly sought after in the region. 5. CHINA The hiring of senior legal professionals has gone up as multinational companies continue to move their APAC operations to China. In fact, local internet giants have already been bolstering their in-house M&A legal talent to support future business growth. Meanwhile, the easing of Chinese regulations allowing foreign investors access to Chinese domestic markets has fuelled hiring across the board for bilingual legal & compliance professionals with asset and wealth management experience. APAC has also recently seen a surge of domestic Chinese companies expanding their operations in the region. Many Chinese tech giants, such as TikTok, Alibaba and Tencent, have set up hubs in Singapore and the city-state is now seeing a talent crunch within the industry, underscoring the need for legal professionals with digital skills and experience. ​6. ASSET OWNERS/ MANAGERS Asset owners/managers have been steadily expanding their investment capabilities, especially on the private side. This has resulted in a strong demand for private asset lawyers who specialise in private equity, real estate and credit. ​ HIRING HOTSPOTS FOR 2021 These are areas of high demand amongst our clients: Mandarin-speaking Counsels & Compliance Officers Asset & Wealth Management Compliance Officers Data Privacy Legal & Compliance professionals Counsels with in-house digital/ technology project management experience Capital Market Lawyers Counsels with in-house IPO experience Legal & Compliance professionals with a solution-oriented mindset RECENT PLACEMENTS BY PROFILE ROLE ORGANISATION LOCATION      Head of Legal and Compliance European Healthcare Firm Singapore Senior Digital Legal Counsel Insurance Firm Singapore APAC Head of Legal Global Fund Manager Singapore Legal Counsel Multi-Family Office Singapore Legal Counsel Global Fund Manager Singapore IP Counsel Global Luxury Brand Singapore Legal Manager Real Estate Firm Singapore SG Head of Risk and Compliance Fund Manager Singapore Director, Compliance Global Infrastructure Fund Singapore VP, Compliance Global Private Equity Fund Singapore APAC Head of Legal European Fund Manager Hong Kong          Greater China Head of Compliance US Private Equity Fund Hong Kong Greater Head of Compliance US Fund Manager Hong Kong Hong Kong Head of Compliance European Fund Manager Hong Kong Hong Kong Head of Compliance US Brokerage Hong Kong APAC Head of Investment Compliance                          US Fund Manager Hong Kong APAC Legal Counsel European Fund Manager Hong Kong Legal Counsel Global Insurance Firm Hong Kong Compliance Officer Hedge Fund Hong Kong Legal & Compliance Officer US Private Equity Fund                                 Hong Kong Legal VP TMT Company China Legal Counsel European Luxury Brand China Legal Counsel                                                                    Chinese Healthcare Company China Contracts Counsel, APAC US Management Firm China Chief Compliance & Risk Officer UK Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer UK Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer US Asset Manager China MD, CCO, AMC US Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer, China AMC US Asset Manager China Senior Legal & Compliance Counsel US Asset Manager China AVP, Investment Compliance US Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer US Asset Manager China Senior Compliance Manager Global Asset Manager China VP, Compliance Global Asset Manager China Compliance Analyst US Asset Manager China MD, Chief Compliance Officer, JV WMC US Asset Manager China Head of Compliance UK Asset Manager China VP, Compliance, JV WMC US Asset Manager China Director, Compliance Global Infrastructure Fund China VP, Compliance Global Private Equity Fund China KEY CONTACTS For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Legal & Compliance team: Hong Kong Office - please contact Sonny Wong Singapore Office - please contact Suan Wei Yeo Shanghai Office - please contact Andy Zhi or Sophia Sun Click here to download the full report. Sources: New report: Asia Pacific workforce applying digital skills will need to increase five-fold by 2025 | AWS Public Sector Blog (
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