HONG KONG’S banking sector, one of the most staid areas of its financial industry, is seeing an unusual spurt of recruitment as newly licensed virtual banks race to snap up talent.

Four ventures that won permits have about 200 people in the city, which may more than double by the time they start operating, said Carol Cheung, a director at headhunter Robert Walters Plc. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority expects the virtual banks to begin offering retail and commercial services within nine months and is processing four more applications.

“How often do you see Hong Kong’s most regulated banking industry create something totally new?” said Cheung. “This wave of hiring is rare.”

While firms including Robert Walters are on the lookout for everyone from business chiefs to operational staff, finding the right skill set may prove challenging. Though crowned as a financial hub and boasting a banking sector that steadily employs some 100,000 people, Hong Kong has relied on a clutch of traditional lenders and is behind regional economies in financial technology.

“There’s already a lack of fintech talent in Hong Kong’s banking industry as not every banking practitioner is a good fit,” said Simon Loong, founder of WeLab Holdings Ltd., which was granted a license earlier this month. “Some bankers who are experienced in doing traditional sales may not be suitable for fintech-driven services.”

Headhunters are looking for system developers and risk and compliance officers, among others. They said salaries may not be extravagant because virtual banks will operate like fintech startups, but the new businesses could attract staff by offering share options.

Some firms are looking beyond the city for recruits. While almost 70% of employees at SC Digital Solutions Ltd., controlled by Standard Chartered, are from Hong Kong, it has hired from technology firms and digital banks in North America, Europe, China and Australia, said Samir Subberwal, a director on the virtual bank’s board.

“There is a bit of tightness in terms of getting the right amount of talent in Hong Kong,” Subberwal said. “That’s why we’re hiring globally.” — Bloomberg