Though we both split our time between Hong Kong and Singapore, we still find it difficult to advise APAC and Global HR Heads when asked, “Where should I put this role?” or “Is there a preferred location for top talent?” It is often a personal preference, and it can depend on a number of key factors that have nothing to do with the actual job, such as the availability/ affordability of schooling, housing and general quality of life. There are the clichés of Hong Kong as the ‘New York of Asia,’ with Singapore being the more family friendly option, but this only scratches the surface. In the following article, we’ll take a closer look at the factors to consider when choosing between these two traditional Asian hubs.

What do the Numbers Say?

In March Singapore jumped to the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) ranking as the most expensive city in the world. Incomes are rising, but increasing outgoings in the form of surging living costs may even the score. According to ChapmanCG CEO, Matthew Chapman, “These days, the salaries in Singapore and Hong Kong are almost even – Singapore may have even snuck ahead, on average. This is a far cry from a decade ago when HK paid significantly more than Singapore.” He continued, “The cost of living in both locations is roughly similar, although in central HK housing costs far exceed those of the most central locations in Singapore. But since Greater HK has more land mass than Singapore, the one advantage it has is that it’s possible to get further out of the madness and therefore save money.”

Where is the Talent?

Both port cities have strong pools of regional HR talent in both generalist and functional roles. Hong Kong is always perceived as a banking and financial services hub, but it’s interesting that more than half of ChapmanCG’s HR work in Hong Kong is actually outside of the finance sector. Other key industries for us there include professional services, fast moving consumer goods and industrial sectors. With the exceptions of financial services, retail, sourcing and professional services, the volume of Regional HQ offices in HK can actually feel more limited than the options in Singapore.

It has been interesting over the last two years that we have also seen a number of North Asia and Greater China roles being moved out of Hong Kong and into China. Some of this movement is due to a shortage of talent in Hong Kong, but most of the moves indicate the sheer scale of business in China. We are also noticing a North/South divide, where North Asia tends to veer toward China or HK as a base, while South Asia generally falls within Singapore.

Best for Doing Business

Both environments are extremely business friendly and have low tax rates. Various government initiatives in Singapore over the last few years have established a media hub, a pharmaceutical hub and continued pull for regional headquarters to be based in Singapore. In global surveys on ‘ease of doing business,’ Singapore always ranks highly, in part because setting up a company here is relatively easy, and government support is readily available. In Chapman’s opinion, “If you’re a multinational and want to access the Greater China market, from a talent and ‘ease of travel’ perspective, HK will be superior to Singapore. That said, we have seen Singapore ‘winning’ more regional and global roles than HK for some time, and many of these have China underneath them.”

The Verdict?

We’re not sure there is one. Both Hong Kong and Singapore can provide fantastic professional opportunities and have a lot to offer in terms of culture and valuable work and life experience. In the words of Matt Chapman, “Hong Kong wins points due to its vibrancy, beautiful hills and harbour, edginess, and if you’re in the finance world, perhaps its slightly greater epicentre than Singapore. Singapore wins out on its ease of living, relative affordability and its business friendly environment. The bottom line is, it really depends on what you are looking for.” We believe that companies taking a more fluid approach to regional roles will be the ones able to attract and retain the best. Once you have a top regional HR talent, look at where that individual can offer and gain valuable experience and make it happen.