Hong Kong employers may have a task on their hands. Their highly skilled anti-money-laundering and compliance professionals may not be able to resist the temptation of better pay and perks in China.

According to British recruitment agency Hays, the wage gap for mid- to senior-level managers between Shanghai and Hong Kong is closing.

But some of the cash-rich Chinese companies are offering salaries much higher than Hong Kong employers to secure much-needed talent and fill key positions.

“Generally speaking, the wage gap for similar roles between Shanghai and Hong Kong is closing, but has not yet achieved parity,” said Simon Lance, managing director for Hays in Greater China. “But the cost of living in Hong Kong is still relatively higher.”

A Hays survey of 3,000 employers in Asia shows that an average compliance director at a mainland-based bank can earn 1.2 million yuan (US$187,500) a year, 45 per cent more than in Hong Kong where it is HK$1.01 million (US$129,156).

Still, mainland employers, to attract senior-level foreign talent that will play a leading role in their newly created businesses, were willing offer a hefty premium to the average pay level in a market short of professionals, according to Sue Wei, a business director at Hays.

She added that top-notch candidates dealing with compliance and anti-money-laundering were actively sought after by China’s financial institutions.

A chief financial officer hired by a multinational company in Hong Kong can be paid up to HK$3 million a year, while the salary for a CFO at a foreign company’s mainland unit can amount to 3 million yuan a year, according to Hays.

“Recruitment and retention of talented employees remain a key factor in the success of any business,” said Lance. “Employers in mainland China recognise that salary increases are one way to keep their best people on board.”

In 2017, 45 per cent of employers in China awarded their employees a pay rise of more than 6 per cent, according to the survey. Among them, 7 per cent increased salaries by more than 10 per cent.

In Hong Kong, 20 per cent of those surveyed offered a pay rise of more than 6 per cent.

The mainland’s booming fintech sector and the quick pace of digitisation in businesses have ushered in mounting demand for qualified professionals, particularly at senior levels, amid a limited local talent pool.

To source talent to fill the vacancies, mainland-based companies are setting their eyes on overseas candidates with regional experience.

Lance said those highly skilled employees in Hong Kong and overseas-returned Chinese were being mainly targeted by mainland companies.

For mid- and junior-level roles, expats have little chance of securing a job on the mainland, he added.

On the mainland, the percentage of foreign employees at the respondents stands at 10 per cent, four percentage points lower than Hong Kong.

In Singapore, the percentage figure hit 19 per cent.

On the mainland, 51 per cent of the employers surveyed expect to raise salaries by at least 6 per cent in 2018 while 22 per cent of Hong Kong companies plan to do so this year, Hays said.

Global recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley predicted that China’s job market will experience another growth year in 2018.

“The Chinese economy is performing well. It’s an ideal time for jobseekers to have their pick of new opportunities,” said Richie Holliday, Morgan McKinley’s chief operations officer for the Asia-Pacific.