HSBC-Hong Kong
Wage bill is going up at HSBC and other banks with big Asian presence Creative Common

Banks with an Asian focus, such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, were hit by rising wage bills last year from expanding in the region.

In Europe and elsewhere, salaries across 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.

Mercer found that in Asia financial services salaries were set to rise 5 percent on average in 2012. In the US pay hikes would be likely to reach 2.5 percent and in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) 2 percent.

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

Base salaries were historically never a big part of investment bankers' compensation packages but after a post-financial crisis crackdown on bonus structures by regulators in Europe, base pay has risen dramatically.

At many top investment banks, salaries doubled after 2009, with senior executives getting up to £300,000 ($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. International banks in Asia for instance compete with local firms on this basis.

Bonuses remain a big focus for regulators, politicians and the media, with banks in the UK still under intense pressure to rein in rewards after several lenders were bailed out by taxpayers in 2008.

Bonus structures have been overhauled, with big chunks deferred and paid in shares rather than in cash up front.

Lloyds and HSBC were among those that clawed back bonuses this year in connection with mis-selling incidents.

But although payout structures have changed, the size of rewards is still a contentious point, particularly in Europe, even if most investment banks, hit by turmoil in the eurozone last year, slashed bonus pools for 2011.