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Workplace Stress in COVID-19 – Can Any Good Come from This?

This article first appeared in the 2020/21 HR Service Providers Directory (HRSP), published by the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM). As the challenges and uncertainties of COVID-19 continue, workplace stress is on the rise. In a recent survey of more than 2,700 business leaders across APAC, the majority of respondents agreed their mental health, or that of their colleagues had been negatively impacted. Conducted by Profile Search & Selection (“Profile”), the survey provided insights into many of the critical challenges organisations currently face. Interviewed in Q2 2020, nearly half (45%) of the respondents felt that COVID-19 had adversely affected their mental health, and 60% felt that it had negatively impacted their colleagues’ mental health. Interestingly, those suffering the most seemed to be in Hong Kong (58% compared to 39% in Australia, 41% in China and 44% in Singapore). Perhaps Hong Kong, a city already coping with issues related to mental wellbeing from workplace stress, has been further impacted by recent political uncertainties. Pushing accountability to those at the top of the corporate tree and understanding that leaders in organisations are responsible for communicating messages of change, the survey also asked respondents if their leadership team’s response to the pandemic had affected their stress levels. While 42% felt no change, 43% suffered additional stress. These results may well be reflective of the continued uncertainties, and the outcome of employees asked to take pay cuts or unpaid leave (35% of those surveyed), or even staff redundancies and some business closures (20%). At the time of writing, and in the midst of Hong Kong’s third wave of COVID-19, another study, designed by the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong, found that among 801 employees interviewed across the city, 87% showed symptoms of stress, with 43% reporting signs of anxiety disorders. Not only are the numbers alarmingly high, but they point to a worsening problem as the year progresses. With job insecurities and personal challenges mounting, the question looming is how can we tackle this, and what response measures have we, and can we, put in place. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many companies have adjusted their working arrangements to fit the HKSAR Government’s social distancing requirements, but are these measures supporting individuals’ mental health and helping to reduce workplace stress? Looking back over the last six months, 80% of those surveyed by Profile said their company had all, or at least some, of their staff working remotely or from home. While this has been beneficial to many, others have struggled to work in isolation or with several people in the house, children to home school, parents to care for, and no appropriate space to work in. Surveyed employees were also asked how productive they have felt since working from home. While nearly a third said they were less productive, 64% said they were either more productive, or just as productive as being in the office. Unfortunately, nearly 60% said they have been working longer hours. Despite this, over half said they felt their colleagues were taking advantage of their flexible arrangements or not fulfilling their responsibilities. Therefore, it is clear that flexible working has had a positive impact on many individuals, but there is still some way to go in terms of learning to trust and effectively manage staff remotely. Furthermore, as remote working continues, leaders will need to better communicate changes and company directives to their teams to keep them on an even keel. If there is one positive to come out of COVID-19, it is that people are more comfortable talking to their colleagues about mental health (65% of those surveyed, up from 59% from Profile’s Working in APAC survey in January 2020) and a number of firms have either upgraded or put in place an employee assistance programme. Furthermore, firms are looking at new and creative ways to improve employees’ wellbeing – these have included subscriptions to meditation apps, online gym sessions and reduced working hours/compressed work weeks, demonstrating proactive measures taken to combat some of the current issues. Looking ahead, there are strong signs that as organisations work through the pandemic, employees will want the option to continue working remotely and flexibly, and to be able to control when and how they work – in other words, be truly ‘agile’. For this to succeed, managers and employers will not only need to implicitly trust their staff, but also learn to rate their performance in a whole new way. In so doing, employers are recommended to invest time and money into ensuring their technology supports remote and flexible working. Moreover, such advances will need to support real time interaction and video/virtual connectivity among staff, to maintain and build rapport across business units. Employers should also carefully consider workplace setups at home, to make sure remote and flexible working can offer employees a safe and productive environment. Organisations who prioritise the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff will not only help improve their productivity, but in the longer term, will better attract and retain them. Prospective candidates will focus on companies with supportive and trusting environments – and in turn those perceived to be the most reliable in the face of challenges, will become the go-to employers of choice. As a result, COVID-19 will not only change the way people work, but will redefine what employees look for in an organisation. As the post-COVID-19 workforce seek out firms who can provide a wholesome workplace, they may even prioritise this over a higher salary offered by a more traditional organisation. In fact, we have already seen candidates make these career choices, so it won’t be long before these requirements are the norm for job seekers. One thing is for sure – however we all decide to move forward in the new normal, it is undeniably a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine working life and be part of the foundations of a very different world (of work). While this may seem overwhelming at times, perhaps with the right support, there is the chance to channel that stress into enhanced productivity, and ultimately better working lives.
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Virtual Onboarding and the Candidate Experience

The daily commute is now a thing of the past for many office workers. Remote working and video conferencing are staples in the workplace as the pandemic shows no immediate signs of abating, and many tech giants – Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Apple included – are changing long-term plans to permanently move their staff to working remotely. According to our recent COVID-19 Impact survey, 73% of respondents in APAC agreed that due to changes to remote working policies, their companies would be more likely to adopt flexible and agile working practices after the pandemic is under control. While flexibility has increased for working professionals globally, how are these policies affecting new hires? Starting a new job can be nerve-racking; adding the stress of a global pandemic can make it even worse. Companies are now having to rethink their talent management strategies to deliver positive experiences for their new starters. In September, we spoke with candidates across the region who have had first-hand exposure to a remote onboarding experience this year. Based on these conversations, it seems that many companies are adapting well to this ever-changing environment; however, there are clear areas for improvement. This article delves into the various challenges facing new hires today and the potential opportunities to help companies shape their virtual onboarding procedures. CHALLENGES Meeting New Colleagues Starting a new job with a new – and completely virtual – team can lack the personal touch that face-to-face meetings provide. Many of the candidates we spoke to expressed difficulty integrating into the culture of their new companies and the various working styles of their co-workers. Often, these employees felt they were unable to form relationships with colleagues outside of those on their team. "The only part I miss is the face-to-face meetings. It takes a lot more time to build relationships without those in-person interactions. Coffee meetings and corridor chats are the biggest loss." Discipline A common challenge we frequently hear from remote employees are the distractions that come with working from home. Whether it’s helping your kids with their virtual schooling, caring for elderly parents, or finding the space for a temporary home office, family and home demands can affect productivity. Particularly for new employees who are unfamiliar with the role and their team’s expectations, a strong work ethic is required to remain productive while working from home. "To keep myself disciplined and organised, it is up to us to manage our work, and we must know what to do; otherwise, we are easily distracted." Communication Styles Video calls have replaced face-to-face meetings. Although Zoom fatigue may set in, facilitating a professional and comfortable digital environment can help new employees feel as though they are in a face-to-face office setting. Another notable change in communication styles is the switch from email to direct messaging apps for faster responses, such as WhatsApp, Slack, WeChat and Microsoft Teams. These apps provide a quicker and more effective method of collaboration among teams. However, with almost every conversation happening online, some candidates expressed the need to be extra polite and considerate when communicating as their tone is often hard to convey via email. The number of both video and audio calls have increased, mostly to avoid the misunderstandings that can often happen over email. "I proactively reach out to arrange video calls, which is closer to face-to-face interactions. If someone wants to do a call, I suggest a video call instead." Distance​ Though the number of video calls with managers and colleagues has increased, many candidates expressed feeling distant and alone. Many reported their conversations with colleagues are often entirely work-related and lack the office "chit chat" that helps build relationships. "When company policy dictated that we work from home, daily team calls were instituted in the mornings, so we felt a connection to others in the firm. One-on-ones with my manager, which used to be weekly, were also increased to twice a week." "I don't feel looked after because I feel every interaction and conversation is very work-based. I have nobody to speak to about how I feel, and I do feel a bit distant and alone." OPPORTUNITIES Buddy/Mentorship Programs Engaging in regular one-on-one check-ins with new employees can help maintain effective communication. Overcommunication is particularly important to help facilitate a sense of belonging and inclusion in those first few weeks. Larger, more informal get-together sessions can help integrate new hires. Several candidates reported feeling more connected after virtual coffee meet-ups and get-to-know-you calls. Kim Pope, WilsonHCG COO, recently offered her insight as part of the Forbes Human Resources Council: “Match new hires with seasoned employees who can answer questions and provide advice. Because it’s virtual, you can make matches based on interests rather than just putting two people together because they’re in the same office. Encourage communication by video so new hires get to see a friendly face. And screen sharing can help mentors talk through new processes.” Structured Training Platforms In order to put your company’s best foot forward, organise training sessions that set your employees up for success. By creating an orientation schedule and setting up video introductions with relevant team members, managers can help foster excitement among new hires as well as helping them feel more prepared and welcome. "A proper detailed orientation plan and training schedule would have helped to understand the company better. Information was delivered in bits and pieces, and I had to initiate and reach out to relevant people to seek information myself." Increased Empathy Onboarding is one of the more important processes for retaining and maintaining talent. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we think and function as a society, and it’s critical to understand the challenges facing new hires today. Particularly during these tough times, a little bit of empathy will go a long way. "Show empathy towards employees, remind managers to understand the personal challenges, don’t push employees too much. Try and delay deadlines if you can." CONCLUSION Effective onboarding in a time of crisis takes more time and effort; however, it seems we are quickly adapting. Even in these unprecedented times, the shift to remote working shouldn't prevent new employees from having a positive experience when starting a new role. One thing to take away from these conversations is that employers cannot possibly overcommunicate. Ask for qualitative feedback and make sure you document and refine the process to keep managers informed. This is, after all, an interactive evolution. An additional advantage is that managers will also benefit from the experience by learning new skills that will serve them well as remote working becomes the norm. For additional resources on virtual onboarding, check out these articles from WilsonHCG: Forbes HR Council: Tips for effective virtual onboarding Onboarding and mentoring virtual employees Tips for optimizing your virtual workspace Virtual Coaching Solutions: Setting Up A Mentoring Program
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Spotlight on China 2020

ASSET MANAGEMENT IN THE "NEW NORMAL" Six months ago, our “Spotlight on China” report focused on “Preparation, Perseverance & Flexibility” as the key ingredients for successfully growing in the onshore China asset management market. Since then, much has changed. As we adjust to this new reality of the global pandemic, rising political tensions, economic uncertainty and endless Zoom meetings, the question remains – how are companies navigating the human capital challenges of the onshore China asset management market in this new normal? In this report, we seek to combine our observations of this space with the direct insight of leading asset management professionals operating at both regional headquarters as well as onshore in China. We focus on the current market sentiment and try to decipher the formula for successfully acquiring, managing and retaining the best talent in one of the few busy recruitment markets today. As some firms advance to the next stage of development with their full Fund Management Company (FMC) license applications, others are staying focused on the Private Fund Management (PFM) license and others are seeking different routes to tackle the market. There are a few things that remain constant – there is a shortage of talent, a rising number of employers are chasing the same pool of candidates, and human capital remains the key element to success or failure. Areas covered in this report include: The impact of COVID-19 on the corporate ambitions of international managers moving into or expanding onshore How those firms who are already well established in China are pivoting to the new market conditions, some thriving, others hardly surviving The Four-Lane Highway of the firms pushing ahead with the FMC, consolidating PFM, pushing ahead with new market entry, or pausing their activity Key observations around the candidate market, how it has matured and evolved, and what factors are driving the career decisions of the best talents onshore What’s next in the coming 12 months, and what the challenges and opportunities might be in this ever-changing landscape in China. This report focuses entirely on the human capital side of the Chinese asset management market. We intend for this to be an observation piece and to spark debate and further conversation. Please reach out to us if you wish to discuss any of the content. PFM ACTIVITY Below is a snapshot of the PFM market and fund launches chronologically. Please note that several of the product names are direct translations from Mandarin. We have not addressed the FMC market as, although license applications are in process, there are no funds launched as of yet. Source: AMAC Website (11.08.2020) THE FOUR-LANE HIGHWAY For some firms, business building during COVID-19 has created a whole new set of challenges for what is already a very tough and competitive Chinese market. Those with existing onshore infrastructure and teams are in a significantly better position to take advantage of the ongoing travel restrictions and logistics around hiring remotely. The other COVID-19 challenge is the impact at the global head office, as some firms are more cautious with more pressing issues domestically. Below we review the different groups and the human capital challenges observed. Previously, we spoke of the three groups: Fast Movers, Consolidators and New Entrants. In this edition, we split it into four lanes, from firms who have accelerated towards FMC, to firms who have stepped on the brakes. TAKING THE MARKET'S PULSE WHAT IS THIS? We conducted an anonymous survey into what is driving hiring and other human capital decisions for international firms. WHY THE SURVEY? We wanted to produce a section based entirely on your views and those of your colleagues and peers. WHO CONTRIBUTED? We contacted onshore and offshore professionals. Please see below for a breakdown of contributors. To what extent has COVID-19 influenced the commitment of your head office to further expand your China business? ​ HEAD OFFICE SUPPORT How would you rate your global leadership’s effectiveness with respect to dealing with COVID-19 within your organisation? I have received significant support from my global head office during COVID-19. COVID-19 has negatively impacted the decision of the global head office to apply for PFM or FMC licenses. KEY TAKEAWAYS • China staff feel well supported by global management, and head office commitment remains strong • The majority of companies have not deviated from their China expansion plans • China is a bright spot in a challenging global marketplace LOCAL LEADERSHIP How do you feel the standing of your HR function has been affected by the work it has done with regards to COVID-19? How would you rate your local leadership’s effectiveness with respect to dealing with COVID-19 within your organisation? HIRING OUTLOOK What is the talent outlook for the second half of 2020? KEY TAKEAWAYS • On the whole, the HR function has done an excellent job during COVID-19 with a few exceptions • Chinese management has communicated well with staff during a difficult time • The hiring outlook is still positive for 2020; however, the focus is on critical hires for the short term SHORT TERM HIRING IMPACT For the remainder of 2020, which specific areas of your business would you anticipate seeing the biggest impact in terms of hiring plans being slowed down? (Please note respondents were free to choose more than one area.) KEY TAKEAWAYS • Critical hires continue to focus on the core compliance and infrastructure areas • Sales hires are the most likely to be pushed back to Q4 2020 or Q1 2021 TALENT ACQUISITION Some talent acquisition challenges remain unchanged in the WFOE space, and there is still an abundance of roles with a limited supply of candidates. However, the market has evolved to some extent over the last six months, both from an employer’s and employee’s perspective. Employers are starting to focus on candidates with more in-depth domestic experience as the market matures, and the opportunity for long term success becomes apparent. Employees, on the other hand, continue to develop a keen sense of what they want, and more importantly, what they want to avoid. KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE Companies who have been the most successful when seeking to employ the best talent, and to retain them long term, have spent time developing a proper strategy in advance. The candidate pool has matured compared to 2019 and continues to develop apace. The golden TA rule that “the best candidates ask the toughest questions” is global and is not a new concept; however, it is becoming more important than ever before in this highly competitive landscape. China Strategy – The ability to firmly articulate a clear commitment to growth in China is a simple but crucial element. A few years ago, it was acceptable to be vague about licenses and partnerships. Now, however, it is not, and the best candidates will drill down to ascertain that a deep level of thought has gone into the coming months. Local Leadership – The importance of stable, locally-based leadership is vital, and often more important than the actual corporate brand itself. In China, the pull factor of local, well-respected leaders cannot be over-emphasised. The reverse holds true should a company make a misstep with a senior hire, resulting in constant turnover at GM/CIO/CCO level. Respecting Experience – Strong local candidates with strong local market knowledge and understanding want to ensure that they are hired for their experience and that they will be listened to. They will not expect total autonomy or a free reign; however, the most significant negative for locally-based candidates is that their advice will be ignored by regional HQ, and they land in a more execution type role. THE THREE Cs Hiring quality talent in China is always challenging. Variables to consider are plentiful, and different firms attach different priorities. Bridging the gap between language and culture is hard, and many fall foul of this until they have learned by making mistakes. We advise clients to keep things simple, and we often speak of “The Three Cs” as a guide; however, the most important thing is to realise that some skillsets outweigh the others. Communication – The ability to speak English. Communication is the smallest “c”, but firms often make the error of assigning greater significance to a Chinese candidate’s English language skills. Capability – The technical ability and track record of delivering success onshore in China. Although this seems obvious, the key words here are “onshore in China”. This is a reasonably large “C” and needs to be validated by your onshore partner’s input. Culture – The ability and, more importantly, the desire of the candidate to adapt and build trust. Assessing a candidate’s cultural fit takes more time; the employer needs to invest more in the process than usual and spend longer validating via references and market feedback. Culture is the largest “C”, making it the most difficult, but most important. TALENT RETENTION & MANAGEMENT In our last report, we made the following statement: “China is different” is a phrase sometimes overused – and often as an excuse when hiring goes wrong, or retention is poor. What remains clear is that whilst China is different, the much larger influence on talent retention is the same as elsewhere: good management, strong communication, keeping promises and respecting other people’s opinions. While China may be different 25% of the time, the remaining 75% relies on good management. Despite COVID-19, the onshore asset management market continues to grow and mature at a pace unseen in other markets across Asia. We are well past the three-year mark from the first PFM fund launch, and the level of competition for market share continues to exert pressures on companies to try and retain their best talent. Added to the maturity factor, there is now the logistical challenge of hiring remotely for critical senior positions, which COVID-19 has introduced, should the company fail in their retention efforts. The comments below are a distillation of the recurring views we hear day to day from the “employee/potential candidate” cohort. We feel that the tone of these takeaways underlines the absolute need for a global gold standard of professional management to take place in China, as much as London or New York. The need for regular, empathetic and consistent communication during these challenging times is paramount to success. China is different, and the market is tough, but retention of the best staff is within the sphere of influence of local, regional and global management. TALKING POINTS Below are four areas of discussion which keep coming up. While they are not necessarily human capital related, they will all have an impact on the challenges and opportunities in the years ahead. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK These past few years, foreign firms setting up in China have been grabbing the headlines. However, we are currently witnessing a resurgence of Chinese asset managers and JV asset managers. They are hitting back and are hiring strong senior talent in an attempt to meet the challenges from foreign companies. Mainland giants such as E Fund, Bosera and China AMC may not have seen the PFM as a threat to both business and top talent retention, but the FMC could be a different story. In a pre-emptive strike, we have observed that the Chinese funds, as well as the well-established JVs, are making moves to secure their talent and add leaders to the management team in the face of anticipated competition. TO JV OR NOT TO JV Strategic changes, U-turns and pivots are expected when a marketplace goes through regulatory transition and opens to outside entities. These changes are evident in the China asset management space. While some firms are seeking to take control of existing JVs, such as the mega-deal rumoured around China International Fund Management Co Ltd, others are trying to exit. Some have seen a distribution JV with strategic banking/private banking or insurance partners as a good entry point into the market, taking the view that it is a lower risk approach. There is much speculation over the long-term upside for the foreign majority “owner”. Many feel that 51% sounds like control in international markets; however, when speaking about the Mainland, it can be far from “control” in the day-to-day. SHOW ME THE MONEY 2020 compensation is already a topic of quiet discussion as bonus speculation has started in earnest. The conundrum is apparent: most of the world is under severe financial stress. However, the China asset management space continues to grow, firms continue to have needs, and high calibre candidates continue to be in demand. Bonus expectations at global firms outside of China have been actively managed throughout the pandemic. We believe employees’ expectations, while hopeful, are realistic. However, the market dynamic in China is different, and it has nothing to do with a rising market or recovery from the pandemic. It is a simple supply versus demand inequality created by a combination of regulatory change and the desire of foreign firms to build a long-term sustainable presence in the world’s largest untapped market. The result is the natural conflict of different circumstances across global HQ and locally in China. PASTURES NEW Shanghai has enjoyed an unrivalled dominant position as the WFOE asset management hub in China. Will this continue? The influence of the regulators, the need to form wider distribution partnerships and the increased aggression from the rival local government seem to suggest otherwise. Beijing could be the obvious challenger with a strong existing local asset management industry, the power of the central government and the HQ for numerous potential partners (banks and insurance). However, Shenzhen and the Greater Bay Area could also offer a robust alternative with world-class modern infrastructure, a thriving financial services sector and proximity to Hong Kong as strong draw cards. The message seems to be clear – it is a question of when, not if, this diversification and decentralisation takes place. WRAP UP & WHAT'S NEXT As the world struggles to adapt to the new normal of a COVID-19 disrupted workplace, one thing remains clear. The onshore China asset management market will continue to march forward in an unrelenting fashion, and global companies remain focused on being part of this enormous business opportunity. COVID-19 has impacted human capital and organisational development around the world with the move to remote working, the vastly increased investment in and use of technology, virtual engagements and meetings with internal and external stakeholders. The world’s leading companies are seizing these changes as an opportunity to be best in class and not merely reacting in crisis management mode. This is evident in the way companies are responding to human capital challenges in China. For structural and regulatory reasons, the China asset management market is expanding and not contracting. Elsewhere around the world, most asset managers are operating under a different set of circumstances. When responding to the needs of a country or division operating differently to the rest of the company, management needs to recognise this and act accordingly. Some key takeaways from our observation of how the best firms are operating are below: Strategy – people in China want the strategy to be defined, positive and aspirational. However, if the plan changes, explain why, how and what the benefit will be Communication – given the potentially remote location of leaders, it is impossible to over-emphasise how important communication is today; it should be constant, consistent and high quality Execution – company leaders need to follow through on promises, stick to the plans for their staff and make sure the management of their employees’ careers does not get lost along the way Empathy – we all work with empathetic leaders and those who are not; in the new normal, empathy is highly prized. When lacking, it can be highly detrimental to culture Since the onset of COVID-19, leaders and their human resources teams are coming into their own, adding significant value, and guiding employees through an uncertain and callous time. The feedback we received is highly optimistic about the impact the HR teams have in this space. A successful build onshore in China needs HR to be the closest business partner to the company’s leaders. Good people are always the key to business success. However, the new normal means this is amplified; first-class talent acquisition and talent retention strategy will either be the bedrock of success in 2021 and beyond or the Achilles’ heel which undermines the business success for years to come. The market holds vast challenges. However, within these challenges lies huge opportunity. As the China asset management market continues to develop and mature, the human capital opportunity and ability to positively impact business in 2021 will be enormous. OUR ASSET MANAGEMENT TEAM For more information on recruitment trends, please contact Profile's Asset Management team: Hong Kong Office - Andrew Oliver Singapore Office - Stanley Teo Shanghai Office - Andy Zhi / Yao Xiong Beijing Office - Winni Wei Click here to download the full report.
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Accounting & Finance Market Update 2020

With the continued spread of COVID-19, growing trade tensions, and uncertain global economic conditions, firms in Asia remain cautious in regards to their business outlook. The Accounting & Finance recruitment sector faced a challenging first half of 2020, but the good news is that we are beginning to see some organisations starting to fill headcounts that were put on hold earlier in the year. We anticipate a cautious building up of demand for Accounting & Finance professionals as businesses look to hire talent to drive business recovery. Candidates in the industry are cautious about changing jobs as well. Their willingness to move jobs from pre- to post-pandemic has reduced. However, that is not to say potential candidates are not interested in new opportunities. To attract and retain the best talent, hiring managers need to understand their candidates’ expectations and what matters to them. From soft skills and technical ability to big data and digitalisation, we see common themes when hiring for Accounting & Finance professionals across the region. In this report, we will explore hiring and industry trends across the industry in Asia, as well as the candidates’ response to the current market landscape. ​ CHINA In one of the first signs of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, China’s GDP grew 3.2% in the second quarter of 2020, rebounding from a 6.8% drop in the first quarter. Although 2020 saw China’s weakest growth in decades, we have seen a relatively fast recovery from the pandemic across some sectors. This recovery is expected to continue due to more aggressive policy support measures. However, this growth may be adversely affected due to the re-escalation of trade tensions with the U.S., the prolonged global economic downturn and the potential second wave of COVID-19 as we approach winter. Unemployment in China has averaged 4.5% from 2002 until this year. In February this year, it reached 6.2%, the highest it has been in this period. Following China’s stronger-than-expected recovery in the second quarter, the rate was lowered to 5.7%. According to Trading Economics’ global macro models, China’s unemployment rate is projected to drop even further to 5.5% by the end of this quarter. Hiring Trends Internal Audit & Control Internal audit and control professionals have always been in high demand, and especially so in light of the recent fraud scandal surrounding Luckin Coffee. These roles are particularly important for local companies listed in the U.S. IPO Experience In the past, companies often targeted investment bank professionals to help lead and drive their IPO process. In recent times, CFOs who had started from operational finance roles in a well-established multinational and then moved to a domestic company with a successful IPO experience are highly sought after for such roles. Business Operations The CFO role is broadening and is increasingly operating as a COO. In mid-sized companies, we are seeing the trend of hiring CFOs with a skillset in strategic planning, procurement, IT and legal. We are witnessing CFOs acting as the second-in-command after the CEO and leading the organisation’s transformation. Big Data Analytics Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and IoT are becoming essential parts of the finance team’s arsenal of tools, allowing them to focus on more value-added work. Due to this increased investment in digitalisation, we are seeing trends of hiring finance business partners with strong data analytics background, a proficiency in tools such as Tableau and R, and an ability to use data analytics in producing business insights. Supply Chain Finance Global supply chain has been adversely affected due to COVID-19. This has increased the need for supply chain finance talents who can work on business cases and drive operational excellence as well as build contingency supply chain plans. Industry Trends Healthcare Innovative drug companies are filing for IPOs in the A-share market due to strong advocacy from the Chinese government Mergers & acquisitions (M&As) activities in local medical devices companies are on the rise as they prepare for IPOs Healthcare service portfolios owned by private equity and venture capital firms are slowly entering into the China medical insurance sector Technology, Entertainment & Gaming Digitalisation is speeding up even more aggressively due to COVID-19 The entertainment sector, including gaming, online education and e-commerce platforms, performed well in 1H 2020 and are looking for strong finance talents to strengthen their team Payment Hiring is driven by the relaxing of PBOC requirements for foreign payment companies, hence requiring local hires that fit the PBOC criteria Private Equity/Venture Capital Global leading private equity and venture capital funds plan to further invest in the China market as they are in a more favourable position to negotiate a deal price. Some U.S. private equity funds are changing from investing growth deals to buy-out deals. We expect to see increased hiring of CFOs. HONG KONG Although Hong Kong has faced a double blow of protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s relief measures have helped stimulate the economy somewhat, and current forecasts show a downturn of 6% year on year. With a current unemployment rate of 5.5% (compared to 5.2% in January), the Hong Kong job market remains relatively buoyant in certain sectors. To preserve the vitality of the economy, the government has rolled out relief measures on an unprecedented scale. The Hong Kong Government recently introduced the FinTech Anti-epidemic Scheme for Talent Development (FAST Scheme) to enrich its FinTech talent pool, as an example. As part of the scheme, businesses will be subsidised HK$10,000 per month for a year for one full-time new hire. This scheme has a limited quota on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hiring Trends Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) As established large corporations eye the market for smaller companies to acquire, we have seen a demand for senior finance professionals across various industry sectors with experience of M&A, from identification through to integration. Business Intelligence from Big Data Even before we started working towards the ‘new normal’ with a continuous shift to globalisation, it has been necessary for many candidates to have experience of International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). More recently, we have seen a growing demand for accounting professionals with strong business and analytical skills. With the increased usage of big data and data-driven decision making, finance teams are looked upon to provide the business with strategic support based on data and the use of business intelligence tools. Balance between Technical and Soft Skills The balance between doing business as usual and being compliant with an increasing amount of regulations has never been more apparent. There is a need for finance professionals to have strong stakeholder management skills as well as technical know-how. Candidates with good project experience, including IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) as well as with robotic process automation experience are valuable to organisations as they go through increased levels of change. Finance Transformation / Leaders of Change As most companies are going through a period of change, there is an increased emphasis for the finance function to become more streamlined and efficient. This may include an increased reliance on technology or a review of existing processes. Either way, candidates with exceptional project management and finance transformation experience are highly desirable. Industry Trends FinTech & InsurTech We have seen a demand for senior finance talent across various fintech startups and more traditional insurance players that are evolving into digital platforms. As one of the most competitive insurance markets within the region, there is an appetite for all senior leadership, including finance, to be able to drive digital change. We have seen an increase in the number of finance roles that can work as true business partners. As forecasts may be off budget for the year and possibly into next year, senior finance executives are expected to work with the business to manage this process in partnership with CEOs or founders. eCommerce Consumers are still spending on luxury and lifestyle goods. Although the channel may have shifted from brick and mortar to online, we still see new flagship stores opening in Hong Kong. Athleisure brands are outperforming previous years, and most retailers are managing their VIP customers more tightly. As Hong Kong embraces eCommerce, we see a demand for finance talents that have experience with stand-alone web-based platforms as well as with retailers offering omnichannel solutions. Virtual Banks With eight new virtual banking licenses recently being granted in Hong Kong, we have seen an appetite for finance talents to work in this exciting new space. These candidates are able to utilise their existing skills gained from digital banking and the technology sectors. SINGAPORE Singapore’s actual GDP in Q2 contracted by 13.2% year-on-year, and the unemployment rate increased from 2.4% in Q1 to 2.9% in Q2. With an overall challenging economic environment, the employment outlook for the second half of this year remains subdued. Economists suggest that the Singapore economy will be challenging in Q4 before an expected slow recovery in 2021. The subdued external economic environment will continue to pose a drag on several of Singapore’s outward-oriented sectors. Amidst the challenging global situation, we continue to see hiring for finance talents. Hiring Trends Business Analytics To better forecast business changes and assist in strategic decisions, the finance function is increasingly needing talent with data analytics and big data management. We are seeing a trend of hiring for Financial Planning and Analysis, Commercial Finance and Finance Business Partnering professionals who have exposure to data analytics tools like R, Tableau, Python, SAS, QlikView. Strategic & Finance Business Partnering Firms are seeking finance professionals to provide insights in driving recovery and performance during these unprecedented times. There continues to be a demand for commercially astute finance professionals who possess the gravitas to engage with business partners. Finance Transformation & Robotic Process Automation (RPA) More organisations have been embarking on finance transformation initiatives to drive process and system improvements. There continues to be a demand for professionals with demonstrated experience in driving and leading finance transformation projects relating to process improvements. As automation is the key to driving efficiency and effectiveness, we have observed a strong push for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in finance and transactional accounting work. We find accounting professionals with experience in implementing RPA within a large organisation to be in high demand. Even mid-sized businesses are looking to adopt such technologies to stay competitive and efficient. Tax Advisory & Planning As tax authorities develop globally and implement new regulations and compliance rulings, there continues to be a demand for tax professionals who are well versed in international tax advisory, transfer pricing and indirect tax. Supply Chain & Finance With globalisation, the world’s supply chains have become substantially complex and more interconnected. The US-China tensions, and more notably COVID-19, have demonstrated how vulnerable global supply chains can be to any sort of disruption. There is an increasing need for experienced finance leaders who have deep experience in partnering with supply chain leaders. Financial impact analysis, evaluating capital investments, effective inventory planning, identifying/managing risks, and optimising performance are some of the key areas an experienced supply chain finance business partner can bring to the table. Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) This pandemic also created opportunities for businesses with good financial positions to look into M&A activities. We have started to see an increase in hiring for in-house M&A positions within corporates. Increased Emphasis on Soft Skills There has also been an increased emphasis on soft skills as part of the hiring criteria. Soft skills that are widely looked at are stakeholder engagement skills, critical thinking skills, learning agility, and the ability to drive and manage change. ​ Industry Trends Digital There is significant growth in the digital and e-commerce industries. Traditional FMCG brands and retailers have also accelerated their journey to embark on digital platforms. We continue to see growth in the e-commerce, fintech, technology and communications sectors. There is a strong demand for digital payment services, IT and digital solutions. Healthcare Singapore’s pharmaceutical and biomedical sectors have been an important driver in the economic growth of Singapore. We continue to see growth in these sectors and more companies in these sectors investing in Singapore. Advanced Manufacturing The strong demand from 5G, data centres and cloud services has led to a growth in the semiconductor industry. With increased telecommuting and remote learning arrangements, as well as the accelerated digitalisation of businesses globally, this sector will continue to see significant growth. Sustainability As concerns over climate change and the danger of carbon emissions intensify, there is an increase in efforts to develop smart sustainable cities. Singapore is aiming to be a global leader and innovation hub for smart and sustainable building solutions in Asia. The clean energy sector, urban mobility and new water management technologies are sectors that will see good growth. ATTRACTING THE RIGHT TALENT During these uncertain times, candidates are generally more reluctant to change, and their priority is on job stability over career growth. We are seeing a larger supply of candidates than demand due to headcount freezes put in place during the pandemic as well as staff cuts. This year, we conducted our annual 2020 Working in Asia Pacific survey in January. Responses came in from nearly 2,700 working professionals based mostly across China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. In the survey, we asked about the main reasons why candidates might leave their current organisation. “Lack of career growth and developmental opportunities” was named as the top factor in pushing candidates to seek out a new opportunity, with poor leadership from line manager not far behind. As the job market picks up, we expect these factors to come to the fore. TOP REASONS FOR LEAVING A COMPANY We also examined the factors that attract candidates to an organisation as they look for new job opportunities. A strong company culture with effective leadership is a critical component in attracting top talent and acts as a magnet to retain good employees. WHAT DO CANDIDATES LOOK FOR IN A COMPANY Despite current market uncertainties, we see that finance talents are still open to look at companies with strong employee value propositions. As hiring within the Accounting & Finance sector resumes, employers must position themselves to support this next phase of growth and focus on hiring top talent. We continue to see a demand for strong finance talent across the region. There are niche skillsets within finance functions that have been increasing in demand in recent years. With a dynamic environment, finance professionals need to continue to build new skills to be able to contribute in this ever-changing market. RECENT PLACEMENTS BY PROFILE ROLEORGANISATIONLOCATION CFO Chinese Consumer Company China VP, Finance Chinese Healthcare Company China General Manager, Operation Global Entertainment Company China BU Finance Controller Global Solutions Company China Internal Audit & Control Director Chinese E-Commerce Company China Associate Director, Commercial Finance US Consumer Retail Multinational China Director, M&A Asian Healthcare Provider China Accounting Manager Chinese Pharmaceutical Company China Plant Controller European Manufacturing Company China Senior Finance System Manager European Pharmaceutical Multinational China Associate Director, Finance Global Travel Tech Startup Hong Kong VP, Finance APAC UK Lifestyle Brand Hong Kong VP, Finance APAC, Commercial Markets Global Consumer Goods Company Hong Kong Finance Manager Hong Kong FMCG Company Hong Kong Financial Controller Global Investment Technology Company Hong Kong Head of Finance, Asia Hong Kong Conglomerate Hong Kong Commercial Finance Manager UK Sourcing Company Hong Kong Finance Manager, Revenue Recognition & Forecasting Global Telecommunication Company Hong Kong APAC Business Manager / COO UK Financial Institution Hong Kong Tax Manager Global Technology Company Hong Kong CFO Asian Investment Holding Company Singapore Global Head of Tax Global Industrial Multinational Singapore Business Controller European Technology Multinational Singapore Senior Manager, IT Network Audit Global Technology Multinational Singapore Manager, Enterprise Risk Management SGX Listed Company in Oil & Gas Singapore Credit Controller Global Healthcare Provider Singapore Head of Internal Audit SGX Listed Company in Consumer Goods Singapore Head of Finance US Pharmaceutical Multinational Singapore Treasury Manager SGX Listed Company in Real Estate Singapore Finance Manager US Multinational in Chemicals Singapore KEY CONTACTS For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Accounting & Finance team: Hong Kong Office - please contact Paul Shelton Singapore Office - please contact Yvonne Goh China Offices - please contact Sophia Sun Click here to download the full report.
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Profile Legal & Compliance Market Update 2020

Legal and Compliance hiring continues to maintain a steady pace despite COVID-19; however, these are usually critical hires on lean teams that support the region. As most of APAC comes out of lockdown, we are seeing a spike in hiring across the industry. ​ According to data from LinkedIn, hiring rates in APAC have signaled a strong growth in the post-pandemic job market, particularly in Singapore. Source: LinkedIn Across all our markets in APAC, we have seen an uptick in demand. As we move into the second half of 2020 and into 2021, we anticipate hiring to continue to pick up, with organisations wanting to fill headcounts which were put on hold due to COVID-19 earlier in the year. As such, the second half of 2020 will probably be busier than the first, and this pick up is likely to spill over into Q1 2021. We are cautiously optimistic about hiring in the second half of 2020 based on the data; however, we are also fully conscious of the current situation and its implications on the job market. HIRING TRENDS 1. Technology/Entertainment/Gaming/Fintech/Digital Lawyers As most of APAC move their consumption online, we have seen technology, gaming and entertainment companies grow their capabilities. Brick-and-mortar companies no longer need just office spaces but require cloud and digital transformation in order to survive as a business. As a result, lawyers with strong project management skills and understanding of digital platforms have surged in demand across all industries. We also expect a pickup in hiring for data privacy lawyers/Compliance officers in the coming months. 2. Healthcare/Insurance Healthcare and insurance remain in a steady state of hiring across the region. In China, healthcare continues to grow, and clients are looking for strong counsels to provide legal leadership. Across the region, we are seeing pharma and medical devices companies pick up their recruitment now that most of the region is out of lockdown. Tele-medicine, infectious diseases vaccine development, local hospital operators as well as medtech with robotics and artificial intelligence elements are all areas of growth. 3. Fund Management In China, hiring has been driven by CSRC requirements for WFOE PFM (Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise Private Fund Managers) and WFOE Asset Management Companies, requiring local hires that fit CSRC criteria. Across Singapore and Hong Kong, we are seeing steady-state replacement hiring for both long-only and alternative fund managers. 4. Strategic Upskilling In China, MNCs are looking to strengthen their in-house counsel position (with a particular demand for capital markets experience). Across the region, companies are taking the opportunity to upskill their current in-house Legal and Compliance teams as we move to a new normal. Everyone is now expected to be a digital native. 5. Stronger Focus on Greater China Across all industries in APAC, we see demand for candidates who have Mandarin language capabilities and demonstrated experience in supporting Greater China. HIRING HOTSPOTS IN 2020 These are areas of high demand amongst our clients: APAC Digital/IT/Gaming Lawyers Data Privacy Lawyers/Compliance Officers Insurance In-house Counsels/Compliance Officers Fund Management In-house Counsels/Compliance Officers Healthcare In-house Counsels/Compliance Officers Mandarin Speaking Lawyers Business Partnering Legal & Compliance Professionals – those who can communicate effectively​ and be commercial while upholding governance standards CHINA In-house Counsels with capital market exposure in China Legal professionals with experience helping Chinese businesses go international Experienced Chinese Healthcare Compliance candidates who have helped companies IPO Chief Compliance Officers for PFMs and AMCs in Shanghai Bilingual Legal/Compliance Officers across industries WHAT ARE CANDIDATES THINKING Senior candidates are choosing stability. In this COVID-19 climate, senior Legal and Compliance candidates worry about being “last in, first out”. They are more cautious about moving into new ventures as stable organizations with a long-term outlook are preferred. ARE YOU CONSIDERING LEAVING YOUR ORGANISATION IN THE NEXT 6–9 MONTHS? In our recent Working in APAC survey, the number of respondents who were considering leaving their organisation fell from 55% to 41%. SOURCE: COVID-19 Impact Survey, Profile, A WilsonHCG Company Most candidates who have worked from home during lockdown have now indicated that going forward, they would ideally like to build in working from home a few days a week, even when things get back to normal. FLEXIBLE WORKING POST-COVID-19 People view flexible working as the future. According to our survey of 2,685 working professionals across APAC, most respondents agreed that their organisation would adopt flexible working policies post-COVID-19. This sentiment held true across all industry sectors, size of organisations, countries, generations, and gender. SOURCE: COVID-19 Impact Survey, Profile, A WilsonHCG Company On the other hand, mid-level candidates who are less risk-averse are looking to make a change. Given bonus expectations are minimal for most market conditions, mid-level candidates will be more open to leaving before bonus season, especially if the new opportunity offers more upside for growth. CHINA UPDATE In the WFOE space, candidates are looking for committed, international organisations with a strategy of growth in place. Given the candidate-short market in the WFOE market segment, advocacy remains a crucial component of what we do. Across industries in China, candidates are still looking for potential upside for any job move. Compelling reasons to join a company include IPOs and aggressive business expansion plans. RECENT PLACEMENTS BY PROFILE ROLE ORGANISATION LOCATION Singapore Head of Legal Global Insurance Firm Singapore Legal Counsel Global Fund Manager Singapore Legal Counsel Regional Private Equity Fund Singapore Associate Director, Legal Multi-Family Office Singapore Legal Counsel Global Offshore Marine Firm Singapore Singapore Head of Compliance Global Insurance Firm Singapore Vice President, Compliance Global Private Equity Fund Singapore Associate Director, Compliance Multi-Family Office Singapore IP Counsel Global Luxury Brand Singapore Legal and Compliance Manager Real Estate Firm Singapore Regional Head of Legal Global Asset Manager Hong Kong Hong Kong Head of Compliance Global Asset Manager Hong Kong Hong Kong Head of Compliance Global Brokerage Hong Kong Regional Head of Investment Compliance Global Asset Manager Hong Kong Senior Legal Counsel Global Conglomerate Hong Kong APAC Digital Lawyer Global Insurance Firm Hong Kong Legal Counsel Global Insurance Firm Hong Kong Vice President, Greater China Compliance Global Private Equity Fund Hong Kong Compliance Officer Hedge Fund Hong Kong China Chief Compliance & Risk Officer Global Asset Manager Shanghai China AMC Chief Compliance Officer Global Asset Manager Shanghai Vice President, China Investment Compliance Global Asset Manager Shanghai Senior Legal & Compliance Counsel Global Asset Manager Shanghai Vice President, Legal Education Shanghai Legal BP Global Luxury Brand Shanghai Head of COmpliance Pharmaceutical Company Shanghai China Head of Compliance PRC Asset Manager Beijing 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 Beijing Office - please contact Winni Wei Click here to download the full report.
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COVID-19 Workplace Stress on the Rise – What can leaders do?

There is no doubt the COVID-19 crisis continues to create stress -- but is it such a bad thing? Some might say it has triggered the motivation needed to reinvent business models and affect positive change. Guest writer, Rachel Austen of Austen Advisory, considers the business case for tackling stress and shares some practical insights into what companies should be doing. Should business leaders do something about stress beyond just the rhetoric? To a certain degree, some stress and pressure is helpful - it uplifts performance, energises people and brings teams together. The problem comes with undue stress, which not only is very detrimental to an employee’s mental health and wellbeing but also places businesses at great risk. If left unaddressed, stress accumulates and can lead to serious lapses in judgement, toxic behaviours and in extreme cases to suicide. These impacts are all hugely damaging to a company’s brand. In the current COVID-19 crisis, the negative impact of stress is evidenced by Profile’s Working in APAC survey conducted earlier this year, with 45% of respondents admitting their mental health has been adversely affected. This figure is likely to be higher in reality, due to some respondents being unaware of the early warning signs of declining mental health. Also, from the survey, 43% of people said their levels of stress had increased due to their leadership's response to the pandemic. Aside from the potential risks to organisations mentioned above, plenty of studies show us stress limits productivity and increases staff turnover and employee healthcare costs. AIA’s 2019 Healthiest Workplace Survey results for APAC show that 67.5 days are lost per employee per year through stress-related absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’ – i.e. when employees are physically there but not mentally present. In the context of COVID-19, many companies talk about the need to reinvent, collaborate and be agile – all of which require employees to have a calm, flexible state of mind. Stress is, therefore, the biggest impediment and management must take action now. Exhibit 1: The business case for taking action on stress ​ What can leaders do? A big issue leaders need to address is isolation – employees feeling less connected to others given the more remote working arrangements that many companies still have in place. Leaders should focus on: Tailored support: Stress is personal and everyone’s experience will be different. Leaders need to be attuned to and show empathy for an individual's circumstances. Checking in with them individually to ask how they are feeling. Being vigilant for changes in their behaviour such as being late for meetings, deadlines or becoming irritable and negative. Then exploring this sensitively, with open questions rather than jumping to conclusions. Meaningful connections: Employees crave quality connections (not quantity). Creating opportunities that enable employees to share their challenges and ‘feel heard’ is key. Examples are peer-group collaborations/support, virtual coffees, building in more time at the beginning and end of team meetings for informal discussion, perhaps sharing 'the best thing that happened last week' or doing a pet introduction. Lightening the mood is a good stress reliever. Awareness of available support: Communicating the support channels available and having all these resources in a central, accessible place. Ensuring all managers know what their company has in place so they can signpost them to support (managers are NOT therapists). Many managers lack awareness of what support is in place, therefore avoid conversations completely. Will employees be open in disclosing their struggles? How can this be overcome? Many fear job loss and whilst there is now some more openness about discussing mental health, there is still a big stigma. Furthermore, many people lack awareness of the degree of impact stress is having on wellbeing or the language to specifically describe their feelings. There is an emerging trend in using scientific tools, like AURA (Austen Advisory’s proprietary tool), to measure stress and provide proper insight into the symptoms with personal and management reporting. The AURA tool is completed by confidential personal questionnaires, providing a ‘safer’ channel for disclosure and is a platform for focused individual, team and organisational action planning. Most importantly, it enables a proactive and preventative approach to managing risk from stress – it is far easier to address issues early before they become more complex problems. An example of a recent implementation of this in APAC is at BBC Studios, where a resilience analysis programme was undertaken to gain insight into the impact of stress on the workforce, pinpoint issues and put in place personal, team and management action plans. This provided a common language, addressed the need to localise interventions to their seven different markets and made their business model work much better without employees being under undue stress. You can read a full case study here. Conclusions Stress is dangerous and, like COVID-19, is a silent enemy that can creep up on us. Stress will be a big barrier for achieving business goals: Would you hire people who are negative, cynical, lack energy, think rigidly, emotionally volatile and prone to making irrational decisions? Employers of choice will be those who are known to place wellbeing at their core and take early, focused action on stress. Rachel Austen, C.Psychol. MBPsS. MHKPS. MSc. Director, Austen Advisory Limited Are you/ your team on the road to resilience or the path to burnout? Click here for a short video to understand more. ​Rachel is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with over 15 years of experience working for market leaders, providing advice to many large organisations in addressing their people issues. She previously was an Associate Director at Mercer Hong Kong and Principal consultant at SHL in Hong Kong & Singapore. She now runs her own firm which has a specialisation in stress and resilience and uses a proprietary tool entitled AURA. She has over 9 years' experience working with businesses across Asia spanning a wide range of industries.
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