After slow start, Q1 APAC recruitment picked up steam in March

Louise Langridge
May 17, 20186 mins read

  • Permanent financial services jobs dipped by 9% quarter-on-quarter. 
  • Professionals seeking new jobs remained relatively flat, decreasing by 4% quarter-on-quarter. 
  • Contracting jobs decreased by 8% quarter-on-quarter. 
  • Singapore: 4% decrease in jobs and 4% decrease in candidates, quarter-on-quarter. 
  • China: 17% increase in jobs and 187% increase in candidates, quarter-on-quarter. 
  • Japan: 24% increase in jobs and 6% increase in candidates, quarter-on-quarter. 
  • Australia: 10% decrease in jobs and 44% decrease in candidates, quarter-on-quarter. 
  • Hong Kong: 10% decrease in jobs and 13% decrease in candidates, quarter-on-quarter. 


With the convergence of bonus season, summer holidays, and the Chinese New Year affecting portions of the region, Q1 got off to a sluggish start, overall, but picked up tremendous speed in the final month of the quarter. “March was among the busiest months on record for Morgan McKinley’s APAC offices, but the drag of January and February mask that”, said Andrew Evans, Chief Operations Officer, Morgan McKinley South Asia. 

China and Japan had the strongest employment performance in terms of jobs available, as compared to their regional counterparts. Movement among job seekers was more restrained, with the glaring exception of professionals in China, where the number of people seeking new opportunities almost tripled from Q4 2017.

Employment in Australia

After a strong Q4 in 2017, financial services hiring in Sydney was slow to take off until after January’s summer holidays. As with many of its regional counterparts, things took a dramatic turn in March.  

The country’s financial services sector, which was rocked by a money-laundering scandal, found itself dealing with the scandal’s aftermath in Q1 2018. In response to money-laundering by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) that was uncovered in August of 2017, the government launched the “Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation, and Financial Services Industry”. Though the Commissions’ final findings are not expected for another year, it is already applying pressure across the board, and the industry has witnessed many high level departures. In a silver lining for job seekers, the Commission’s insistence that institutions operating in Australia hire more staff in the areas of risk and compliance management is creating a spike in hiring. “It’s a high stress, high hire environment for financial services in Australia, and as the Commission rolls out its regulatory changes, we’ll see even more hiring in areas like management reporting, project management and financial control.  We expect to see even more hiring across all operational areas of the large financial services companies in Australia as they continue to respond to the Royal Commission, regulators and public opinion’ said Evans.

Employment in Mainland China

China defied jobs expectations in the final quarter of 2017 and Q1 of 2018 only strengthened its outlook. “Hiring in Shanghai normally slows for the Chinese New Year celebrations, but not in 2018”, said Evans. The 17% quarter-on-quarter increase in jobs is paired with an astronomical 187% increase in professionals seeking new opportunities.

Asset management hiring is particularly active, but just about every financial services sector is recruiting in China, and the broad availability of jobs has kicked off a veritable gold rush among those seeking new opportunities. Rapid growth in fintech has also led to a number of top talent leaving financial institutions for jobs in fintech firms, creating further openings in the banking sector.

Employment in Singapore

As with Hong Kong, Singapore saw a slow hiring start to Q1, but picked up dramatically towards the end of the quarter, with March being the highest performing month for Morgan McKinley’s Singapore office, to date. “There was a sustained period of muted hiring in Singapore, but March saw a dramatic turnaround, which we expect to see spillover into Q2”, said Evans.

Hiring in the Singapore office held steady across the financial services subsectors. “For the first time since the financial crisis, we saw an uptick in Mergers & Acquisitions hiring”, said Evans. “Singapore’s long standing, established market and wealth of international professional talent lend its job market an impressive resilience”, said Evans.

Employment in Japan

Japan experienced the most robust increase in jobs available in the region, which were up by 24%, quarter-on-quarter, and by 12%, year-on-year. Job seeker figures were flatter, at 6% and 1% respectively, but on a positive trajectory nonetheless. Hiring was strongest among asset managers, and sales and trading hiring was busy in March.

“Japan’s financial services jobs market was subdued for years, but over the last few quarters, we’ve really seen it take off”, said Evans. Japan rarely follows regional hiring trends, but the employment figures signal a shift within the hiring culture of Japan’s financial services institutions.

Employment in Hong Kong

Hong Kong closed 2017 with a 36% quarter-on-quarter increase in jobs, and a 47% increase in professionals seeking new jobs. In light of such an extraordinary performance, its Q1 dip of around 10% in each signifies a course rectification rather than a reduction in job opportunities. “Chinese New Year slowed hiring down in the first half of the quarter, which is why we’re seeing any reduction at all. Hiring in Hong Kong is gangbusters”, said Evans.

Between bonus season and the holiday, Hong Kong’s Q1 performance did not pick up seriously until March. Hiring in risk management remained strong throughout the quarter, and though it got off to a slow start, come March, hiring in asset management was buzzing. “2018 may yet prove to be Hong Kong’s year”, said Evans.


The Asia Pacific region remains one of the leading global financial services hubs, which each country—even city—having its own unique cultural and economic strengths and challenges. According to the global financial centres index, half of the world’s top ten financial services cities are located in the Asia Pacific region, all in the five countries tracked in Morgan McKinley’s APAC Employment Monitor. Though the list was topped by London, Europe did not fare as well as Asia and North America, in the findings. “The Asia Pacific region is a global financial services heavyweight and is expected to grow in influence in the years ahead”, concluded Evans.


Further press information:


Morgan McKinley APAC Employment Monitor Methodology

Morgan McKinley’s APAC Employment Monitor provides quarterly data on new professional job availability and the number of professionals seeking new roles in the financial services sector. The figures in this report are derived from Morgan McKinley’s own internal data from jobs released by employers and professionals registering for new roles in conjunction with market share figures and knowledge of the market.

In addition to we are now reporting on contract and fixed term contract (non-permanent) quarterly data on new professional job availability in the financial services and commerce and industry sectors through the same methodology.

About Morgan McKinley

Morgan McKinley is a global professional services recruiter connecting specialist talent with leading employers across multiple industries and disciplines.

With offices across Ireland, the UK, Asia and Australia, the company’s professional recruitment expertise spans banking and financial services; commerce and industry and professional services. Morgan McKinley is a preferred supplier to many of the major employers in its specialist sectors and thousands of smaller local firms.

Morgan McKinley APAC provides specialist recruitment services across the APAC region, including Australia, Mainland China, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, working with clients and candidates to deliver local knowledge as well as global reach.

Morgan McKinley APAC has been awarded the following:

  • ACCOUNTANCY RECRUITMENT COMPANY OF THE YEAR in Japan at the 2015 Recruitment International Asia Awards
  • SEEK annual recruitment awards: Winner of Mid-Sized Recruiter of the year, 2015 
  • Global Recruiter Asia-Pacific award 2015 for BEST MARKETING CAMPAIGN 
  • Global Recruiter Asia-Pacific, highly commended 2015 for BEST IN-HOUSE TRAINING 
  • INNOVATION LEADER in the China HR Industry, TOP HR awards 2015 
  • BANKING & FINANCIAL SERVICES Recruitment Company of the year in HONG KONG at the 2015 (and also the 2014) Recruitment International Asia Awards 
  • CANDIDATE CARE PROGRAMME OF THE YEAR at the 2014 Recruitment International Australia awards
  • BANKING & FINANCIAL SERVICES Recruitment Company of the year in JAPAN at the 2014 Recruitment International Asia Awards
  • Global Recruiter Asia-Pacific award 2014 for BEST IN-HOUSE TRAINING
  • Global Recruiter Asia-Pacific, highly commended 2014 for BEST MARKETING CAMPAIGN
  • TOP HR award: Best headhunter in China, 2013
Louise Langridge's picture
APAC Regional Managing Director