- With input from Priya Sunil.

'Salary' was found to be the primary concern for both employees (49%) and candidates (58%) in 2021.

According to the 2021 Hays Asia Salary Guide, however, salaries stagnated over the last year, with 35% of companies across Asia providing no increase - almost double that of 2020 (18%).

Additionally, 6% of companies in Asia decreased wages, and these trends are likely to continue in 2021, with 37% of employers forecasting stasis and 4% predicting decrement.

Apart from salaries, jobseekers have been found to regularly demand flexible work options when chasing a new role, with home and mobile working the most preferred option (63%) followed by flexitime (57%) and compressed hours (28%).

The salary guide also revealed salaries for roles across 17 sectors, ranging from human resources to banking & financial services, and marketing & digital.

Based on that, Human Resources Online has pulled out the three highest-paying roles (annual salaries) across 10 of these sectors below.

Human resources


2021 will see a demand for combined roles as well as new positions that are solely focused on employee engagement, people analytics and HR projects. At the same time, an upturn is predicted in the requirement for candidates who can run both regional areas and recruitment marketing programmes. 

Additionally, the need for the quick roll out of L&D programmes, data analytics for strategic decision making and upskilling has highlighted the desire for modernisation and revamp of HR teams across various sized organisations.

Further, another positive pressure on the HR industry is the government’s Smart Nation initiative. This means that Singapore will see an increase in technology and tech start-up organisations, leading to a demand for experienced HR personnel skilled in agile thinking as well as possessing a strong background in regulatory governance.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Regional HR Director/ SVP of HR: S$250,000 - S$400,000
  • Regional L&D Director: S$180,000 - S$300,000
  • Regional Director Compensation & Benefits: S$180,000 - S$300,000


In 2021, there will be continued demand for professionals with expertise in the setting up of operations from scratch, particularly through system migration and implementation. 

Candidates most sought after are those who are experienced in digitalising the HR process, while HRIS managers or specialists are also required to assist in making more accurate and informed business decisions.

Additionally, in line with the trend of moving Asia Pacific HR specialist roles away from Singapore and Hong Kong to Malaysia, there will be more regional opportunities for local talent in seeking greater regional or global exposure.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Regional HR Director/ SVP of HR: RM420,000 - RM660,000
  • Regional HR Director/ VP of HR: RM360,000 - RM540,000
  • Regional Director Compensation & Benefits: RM300,000 - RM420,000

Banking & financial services


Professionals with a strong understanding of financial products coupled with a sound knowledge of the technology will be in enduring demand, as will product owners and development professionals with experience in the issuance of digital, full and wholesale banking licenses.

At the same time, an increase in recruitment is expected for relationship managers in corporate and institutional banking with a ‘hunter’ mindset for business development as well as strong credit analysis skills and sound product knowledge of cash management, trade finance and treasury products.

Another group on employers’ radars are those with a strong understanding of anti-money laundering regulations and MAS regulatory guidelines (SFA & FAA). Furthermore, retail banking hiring will see marked improvements in the coming year, with an uptick in demand for investment counsellors and relationship managers in the first half of 2021.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Managing Director (Corporate Finance, M&A, ECM/DCM): S$350,000+
  • Director (Corporate Finance, M&A, ECM/DCM): S$220,000 - S$350,000
  • Managing Director (Financial Markets Sales, Institutional, Corporate, Research, Hedge Funds): S$300,000+


2021 will see a trend for foreign banks choosing Malaysia over Singapore when they centralise bank office operations, resulting in an upskilling of the existing talent pool. In addition, the shortages in risk model validation and development mean that banks are willing to pay premiums for this candidate short role, while IT and governance functions will also retain their sought-after status.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Head of Research (asset Management): RM300,000 - RM540,000
  • Department Head (Commercial Banking): RM480,000+
  • Department Head (Financial Institutions Banking): RM480,000+

Marketing & digital


Gaining greater traction in 2021 will be the utillisation of influencers including microinfluencers – who will play a greater role as brands expand their influencer marketing budgets. There will also be a growing fascination for CGI influencers, using digital avatars and AI to usher in a new era of creative marketing.

Additionally, as marketers become more technically savvy, companies are on the hunt for candidates who can make effective marketing decisions based on data analytics. One data marketing trend is the leveraging of advanced technology and automation tools to identify trends, track marketing performance, cleanse data and increase business intelligence.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Marketing Director: S$180,000 – S$250,000
  • Head of Digital Transformation: S$180,000 – S$240,000
  • Department Head (Digital –Customer Experience): S$180,000 – S$220,000


One of the most notable industry trends is that a growing number of marketing candidates are turning to contracting, particularly in the manufacturing, FMCG and pharmaceutical sectors. Conversely, there is a simultaneous tendency for marketers to eschew this nomadic career, wishing to instead become more grounded, a response to 2021’s uncertain economic projections.

For those who are willing to take the risk, however, opportunities abound, as many organisations are laying off their workforce and others are looking to take advantage through recruitment. Though, with that said, forecasts for salary increments will be minimal in the foreseeable future.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Marketing Director: RM300,000 – RM540, 000
  • Department Head (Digital –Customer Experience): RM240,000 – RM360,000
  • Executive Creative Director: RM230,000 – RM300,000

Digital technology


Companies are expected to compete fiercely for digital technology talent. 

This domestic technical talent demand means that candidates may have multiple offers, leading to inflated wage demands that are incompatible with employer expectations. In order to mitigate for this salary pressure, companies will offer specialist allowances for experienced and technically certified individuals.

In the software space, as global smartphone users are projected to top 3.8 billion in 2021, companies will accelerate into the digital sector, creating a demand for software engineers. However, companies seeking developers, data engineers and data scientists with AI and data algorithm skills will find that the market is tragically short.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • CISO (Cybersecurity): S$150,000 - S$400,000
  • Head of Data (Analytics & Big Data): S$180,000 - S$300,000
  • Deep Learning Project Manager (AI): S$120,000 - S$240,000


Candidates in relevant product manager and digital transformation roles are expected to be in demand. At the same time, a substantial uptrend in sectors related to private cloud systems can be expected, leading to an increase in demand for DevOps professionals, especially in cybersecurity.

Furthermore, as companies increasingly incorporate data functions into business decisions and grow these increasingly important chapters of operations, talent who can analyse or crunch data will continue to be required over the coming year.

All of this fluctuation will lead to substantial salary turbulence, leading companies to seek out creative salary packages with an emphasis upon remunerating highly certified talent with technical allowances. Roles that will be best rewarded can be found in the market-retrenched technical areas of coding and algorithm within e-commerce and in the digital webspace, as well as in the more niche areas of emerging technologies.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • CISO (Cybersecurity): RM360,000 - RM720,000
  • Head of Data (ANALYTICS & BIG DATA): RM350,000 - RM600,000
  • Cybersecurity Consultant (Cybersecurity): RM216,000 - RM480,000

Finance technology


In 2021, demand for technology candidates will continue apace as the Singapore government looks to position the nation as a leading global technology centre. The desire to recruit local talent will continue throughout the year to come, resulting in numerous opportunities for top Singaporean technology talent. However, in order to address skill gaps in the market there remains robust demand for foreign talent in niche or emerging tech roles, especially those who are locally based.

In terms of technical expertise, software developers with excellent hands-on skills are in high demand, particularly those with exposure to C++, C#, Python and Java. As companies look to enhance user experience properties, candidates with user interface and user experience backgrounds will be increasingly valuable. This demand is especially notable in banks and insurance companies as they look to head off challenges from emerging digital players.

As businesses adopt more digitally focused strategies, it will be necessary to address the associated risks. Therefore, cybersecurity candidates are vital hires for companies as they look to ensure greater business resilience.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Managing Director for Electronic Trading, Project Management: S$400,000+
  • Managing Director for Cash (All assets), Project Management: S$300,000+
  • Managing Director for Derivatives (All assets), C#: S$300,000+


Once considered a niche specialism, fintech is fast becoming a mainstream model for Malaysian businesses, driving consumer behaviours in a myriad of ways. It is also shifting how businesses operate, and the ‘new normal’ will be shaped by fintech.

Interest in digital banking increased in 2020, with digital payments and lending chief amongst the services that consumers have adopted. However, most banks are still in implementation stages, leading to recruitment drives for developers for inhouse applications in 2021, while concurrently legacy systems are to be redesigned for a more customer-centric experience. 

Additionally, user experience and user interface designers with fintech product experience such as e-Wallets and KYC will see higher than average salary increments.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Managing Director for Electronic Trading, Project Management: RM350,000+
  • Managing Director for Derivatives (All assets), Java: RM320,000+
  • Managing Director for Electronic Trading, Java: RM280,000+

Information technology


Domestic candidates in the areas of government risk and compliance, IT security operations, digital forensic response and penetration testing are expected to be high in demand, pushing salary expectations up. However, this comes at a time when companies are tightening budgets, leading to employers and candidates frequently coming to an impasse.

Hence, recruitment specialists must manage expectations on both sides, highlighting to the former that they may need to pay premium salaries for the right candidates, while the latter might be convinced that sideways moves are acceptable.

Candidates that organisations will be prioritising are DevOps engineers with strong hands-on and continualisation skills, experience in the latest automation, and are familiar with cloud solutions such as Amazon Web Services and Google Platform. However, due to extreme talent shortages, desperate employers are willing to accept systems engineers who have no direct DevOps background but have experience in enhanced current systems with reliability and efficiency.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Industry Consultant (Business Development in Business): S$320,000 - S$550,000
  • Industry Consultant (Business Development in Telecom | Business): S$300,000 - S$550,000
  • Chief Information Officer (Management Roles in Business): S$300,000 - S$525,000


The market is expected to see an ever-increasing requirement for IT candidates, particularly those experienced in DevOps. Unfortunately, employers searching in this area are to be disappointed by the insufficient depth of the talent pool. Further, with digital transformation and companies adopting more agile methodologies in project implementation, there will be a demand for project managers who can function in traditional languages as well as new languages.

Notably, recruitment is not purely driven by replacement, but also by headcount expansion. With a focus on domestic hires, organisations must retain their experienced employees as well as entice others from elsewhere. This is especially important for tech developers, where candidates can expect 25% salary increases as well as non-monetary benefits such as flexi-work and – in order to inspire loyalty and longevity – stock options.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Chief Information Officer (Management Roles in Business): RM300,000 - RM720,000
  • Project/Program Director (Analysis & Project In Telecom | Business): RM240,000 - RM720,000
  • Director Services (Management Roles In Telecom | Business): RM330,000 - RM540,000



The trend of InsureTech and digitalisation are expected to continue in 2021, alongside the utilisation of virtual sales and distribution channels and AI-enabled chatbots.

With all aspects of insurance becoming digitalised on a large scale, there will be a demand for candidates with a strong understanding of insurance products, as well as technologists who can facilitate the digitalisation process.

Companies will also be on the lookout for candidates within governance, especially in the areas of regulatory compliance and internal audit to ensure that firms can adapt to any eventuality. 

Demand in front office recruitment for business development managers and financial advisory sales professionals is expected to grow in 2021. At the same time, with companies expected to roll out large-scale projects in the coming year, project managers and business analysts with project and change management experience, combined with strong underwriting and risk management skills, will be highly desirable.

On the flipside, hiring within other support functions, specifically nontechnology back-office positions, are likely to be limited given the automation trend.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Chief Actuary (Actuarial): S$260,000 - S$440,000
  • Department Head (Bancassurance): S$250,000 - S$420,000
  • Department Head (Actuarial): S$180,000 - S$340,000


In line with companies revamping their products, there will be greater demand for underwriting, broking and projects positions.

Required above all others will be actuarial candidates, sought after both domestically and abroad. Further, should candidates possess IFRS17 experience, whether it be in finance, IT, projects or actuarial, they will find themselves not only top of employer wish lists, but also the subject of a price war as companies fight for their signature. Also increasing is the need for product development candidates, and in spite of the global pandemic, salary increments should remain consistent throughout the industry.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Chief Actuary (ACTUARIAL): RM480,000 - RM680,000
  • Department Head (ACTUARIAL): RM300,000 - RM480,000
  • COO (Operations): RM420,000+

Life sciences


As general health takes prominence, a pronounced, long-term shift within community care is afoot. This is resulting in a requirement for the creation of portable devices, particularly in the sensor diagnosis sector, which will be one of Singapore’s most significant medical device areas of growth.

Also encouraged by the pandemic is the expansion of telehealth, as preventing the spread of contagious diseases becomes a top priority. Worldwide, healthcare operations have turned to video analysis and patient self-monitoring devices, and as a result, additional manpower will be required in the digital health areas.

Candidates looking to advance in one of these newly created roles are advised to improve their technological and toolbased skills, whilst also becoming more adept in digital marketing.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • HEOR/Market Access Director: S$250,000+
  • Marketing Director: S$180,000 – S$240,000
  • Clinical Operation Director: S$150,00 – S$200,000


The pharmaceutical industry reflects last year’s seesawing uncertainty better than all others. The lockdown had a huge impact, yet there is reason for real positivity in 2021 as local, government-linked companies are driving the market with their search for a halal coronavirus vaccine.

Further, last year saw numerous hospital expansion plans put on hold, but completions are forecast for 2021 or 2022, so organisations will pursue candidates who can run hospital operations. However, growth in this area is expected to be more conservative than originally presumed.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Clinical Operation Director: RM350,000 – RM500,000
  • Regulatory Affairs Director: RM220,000 – RM400,000
  • Medical Affairs Director: RM210,000 – RM360,000

Procurement & supply chain


Singapore’s procurement and supply chain functions are facing serious competition from its neighbours, as many manufacturers are at a costing disadvantage when compared to global counterparts in countries such as China, India and Indonesia. As supply chain relies on efficiency, particularly in 2021 after the issues caused and raised by the global pandemic, companies will be looking to candidates who can improve and optimise systems. 

As such, possessing competencies such as Lean Six Sigma certifications and Kaizen will be extremely advantageous for jobseekers, as it would set them apart in this competitive market.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Chief Procurement Officer/Head of Procurement: S$180,000 – S$300,000
  • Supply Chain Director: S$150,000 – S$240,000
  • Sourcing/ Purchasing Director: S$200,000- S$250,000


With a reputation for a skilled workforce with impressive competencies in numerous languages, plus its strategic position, Malaysia is an optimal location for shared service centres and centres of excellence, and this trend will continue into 2021. Consequentially, there will be a demand for roles in the areas of regional category management, integrated business planning and logistics control tower.

Hands-on, strategic, forward-thinking and IT-savvy candidates will have an advantage, with leadership capabilities and international stakeholder management the key soft skills sought after to drive change management and develop lean, productive teams.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Supply Chain Director: RM240,000 – RM840,000
  • Sourcing/ Purchasing Director: RM300,000 – RM600,000
  • Chief Procurement Officer/Head of Procurement: RM300,000 – RM600,000



It is said that from adversity comes innovation, and that can most certainly be said of Singapore’s sales sector in 2021. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic hit sales particularly hard, but numerous industries are taking this opportunity to explore digital transformation and cloud technology.

For the latter, where demands have grown significantly, cloud providers are offering productive and cost-effective digital solutions that allow companies to operate remotely, essential for employees working from home. Additionally, XaaS as-a-service industries are also expected to reflect this high demand for cloud and digital transformation.

Additionally, with growth in the electronics and precision engineering clusters boosted by robust semiconductor demand from the 5G market, the manufacturing sector is set for continued expansion in 2021. Elsewhere, the construction and chemical sectors will see gradual recovery after a quiet 2020.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Country Manager: S$250,000+
  • Regional Sales Director: S$180,000 – S$220,000
  • Head of Retail: S$120,000 – S$140,000


Leading the way for Malaysia’s return to pre-pandemic standings is the digital logistics marketplace. With the booming popularity of e-commerce, the gap between third-party logistics companies is being sewn up, with technology the driving factor in creating more efficiency in delivery. As a result, 2021 will see a spike in necessity for logistics sales candidates as the market moves to meet demand.

The hiring freezes and downsizing exercises seen throughout the sales industry have benefitted smaller, more agile companies, as they take advantage of the gaps presented in the marketplace, employing talent at a more lateral salary range. Until confidence grows in a post-pandemic market, this is expected to continue.

Additionally, in this time of turbulence, the sales sector has seen an increase in smaller companies driving new income streams as they adopt original methods to generate revenue in uncertain times.

The top three highest paying roles are: 

  • Regional Sales Director: RM300,000 – RM550,000
  • Sales Director: RM250,000 – RM480,000
  • Country Manager: RM350,000 – RM650,000

Other key findings from the 2021 Hays Asia Salary Guide include: 

  • 34% of employers noted a rise in innovation over the last twelve months.
  • 70% of employers established a number of flexible working options, up from 54% in 2020.
  • In the next 12 months, just 36% of companies expect permanent staff levels to increase, while 45% expect headcounts to stay the same.
  • 42% of organisations will implement hiring freezes – whether for the first three months of the year (9%) the first six months (16%) or indefinitely (17%).
  • 58% of companies may be open to recruitment should the opportunity arise.
  • The majority of companies (59%) prefer candidates with hard skills, particularly in Malaysia (68%) and Singapore (67%).
  • Employers are on the hunt for professionals with technical (67%), analytical (66%) and project (45%) skills.
  • Only 26% of businesses are employing temporary or contract professionals, a decline of six% since 2020.
  • Just 17% of companies plan to cut back on temporary staff in 2021

"Despite the obvious hardships that we all faced last year, 55% of companies in Asia expect business activities to increase in 2021. Though this is a four% drop on last year’s predictions, it shows a degree of confidence that if the corner has not yet been turned, it soon may be," said Richard Eardley, Managing Director at Hays Asia.

"Backing up this assurance is how companies foresee the growth of their local economy in the next six to twelve months, where 33% expect it to strengthen, which is a vast improvement on last year’s 21%, and not far behind the 36% of 2019.

"And while this may be scant consolation for those undergoing the hardships imposed by the unprecedented year that has gone before, it does signal a gradual return to brighter times ahead. It may take time and involve significant change in how businesses operate and the skills which employees must develop, yet there is a definite feeling that improvement is within reach."

Photo / 123RF

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