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On account of the current pandemic, and the 2019 anti-extradition protests, many Hong Kong executives are putting a hiatus on hiring, except in the innovation and technology sector, according to KPMG’s Hong Kong Executive Salary Outlook 2020.

Compared with 2019, executives’ sentiment towards increasing headcount in financial services, professional services, the public sector, consumer markets, and real estate, in 2020 has reduced.

The innovation and technology sector shows the strongest intention to hire new talent in 2020, with half of the respondents planning to increase their headcount in this field. Not only that, the demand for that talent has surpassed the year before (44%).

Murray Sarelius, head of people services at KPMG China, expects the innovation and technology sector to lead in terms of increasing headcount in the long term, despite the fact the survey was conducted before the coronavirus outbreak.

In the financial services sector, the announcement of new virtual banking licences in the first half of 2019 by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has fuelled dozens of opportunities in general corporate functions, including HR, risk, compliance and finance, with hundreds more positions to follow.

For the professional services and public sectors, the employment outlook remains relatively stable, with 23% and 26% of respondents expecting headcounts to increase in 2020 respectively.

In contrast, wary sentiment is pronounced in the consumer markets sector and real estate sector, which are expected to significantly reduce hiring in order to keep business going, with 41% and 27% of respondents forecasting a headcount reduction this year compared with 18% and 8% in 2019 respectively.

Front line operational staff will be directly affected as people reduce social outings and their in-person patronage.

However, the impact of COVID-19 could be more difficult to predict for the real estate sector, depending on whether it is able to diversify property usage away from shopping outlets and commercial office space and explore data centres and warehouse centres.

The Hong Kong Executive Salary Outlook 2020 canvassed the views of 569 business executives, 497 of whom identified as working in Hong Kong between 2 December 2019 and 20 January 2020.