BUSINESS
03/08/2012 06:45 am ET Updated May 08, 2012

Banker Pay In Asia To Grow Twice As Fast As In United States: Report

* Asia Pacific financial salaries to rise 5 pct, US 2.5 pct

* EMEA banks likely to see most sluggish pay growth in 2012

* Staff in "control roles' to get biggest salary boosts

By Sarah White

LONDON, March 8 (Reuters) - Bankers' salaries in Asia are set to grow at twice the pace of those in the United States this year, according to an industry survey, widening a gap in pay growth rates and cementing Asia as one of the hottest but costliest hiring markets.

Salaries in Europe and elsewhere in the financial sector are also likely to rise in 2012 but at a much slower rate than in Asia and not for bank chief executives, a survey by human resources consultancy Mercer forecast.

Asia-focused banks such as HSBC and Standard Chartered started to feel the pain from rising wages bills last year as they expanded in the region to capitalise on strong growth rates: Standard Chartered registered a 15 percent rise in staff costs as it competed to hire and retain executives.

The trend is set to continue next year too.

Salaries for those working in financial services in Asia are expected to rise 5 percent on average in 2012, Mercer found, a bigger hike than 2011 when average pay rises were closer to 4.5 percent.

In the United States and EMEA, the pay hikes are forecast to reach 2.5 percent and 2 percent respectively, on a par with 2011 growth levels.

The group surveyed 63 firms in December 2011, the bulk of which were banks. A quarter were insurance companies. Most of the firms it contacted in Asia Pacific were based in Hong Kong, Australia and China.

Base salaries, historically not a big part of investment bankers' compensation packages, have risen dramatically after regulators cracked down hard on bonus structures in the wake of the financial crisis.

At many top investment banks, salaries doubled after 2009, with senior executives getting up to 300,000 pounds ($471,200) in base pay, according to headhunters and bankers.

This has made salaries a much more important factor when it comes to retaining and recruiting staff, and international banks in Asia for instance compete with local firms on this basis.

FEW BONUS CHANGES

In the wake of the financial crises bonuses are still a big focus for regulators, politicians and the media -- but half the firms surveyed by Mercer said they did not plan to change the way their bonus payments were structured.

Only 10 percent of firms looking at bonus changes said they were considering reducing the maximum payouts in their annual bonus plans.

Those banks that said they were reviewing bonus payments said they would look at the performance measures such awards are based on or introduce conditions allowing them to take back bonuses - a feature banks are only just starting to use.

Banks in the UK in particular remain under intense pressure to rein in rewards after several of them were kept afloat by taxpayers' money in 2008.

Britain's Lloyds and HSBC were among those that took bonuses back from staff this year after the banks were heavily criticised for selling payment insurance plans to customers who would have been unable to claim.

Elsewhere in the sector big chunks of bonus payments are being deferred and paid in shares rather than in cash upfront.

Though the structures have changed, the size of the rewards is still a contentious point, particularly in Europe.

Most investment banks, hit by turmoil in the euro zone last year, slashed bonus pools for 2011 and the ratio of bonuses to revenues and bonuses to pre-tax profits did fall from 2010 to 2011 at the banks that responded to Mercer's survey.

Staff in so-called control roles - such as in risk management, audit and compliance - are likely to receive the biggest average pay rises in 2012, the report added. These staff could get pay rises of more than 3 percent.

These roles have gained prominence as regulators have cracked down on banks and scrutinised rewards for key risk-takers.

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