WITH the economy powering its way out of recession, finance sector employees are starting to think about their year-end bonuses, and there is only one direction they reckon these ought to be going: up.

About 69 per cent of professionals in the financial industry in Singapore expect a bonus increase this year, according to a recent survey.

The poll, by the eFinancialCareers website, also found that 23 per cent expect an increase of between 11 per cent and 30 per cent, while 11 per cent are counting on a rise of 31 per cent to 50 per cent.

Expectations are lower in Britain and the United States, where only 57 per cent and 50 per cent of finance professionals respectively expect their bonus this year will top last year’s.

Mr George McFerran, the regional head of eFinancialCareers, said the higher expectations in Singapore could mean firms might struggle to keep staff once the bonuses are paid early next year.

The survey found that only 12 per cent of the respondents in Singapore expect lower bonuses this year compared with last year. And of these, 63 per cent say that a lower payout would prompt them to look for a new job at a different firm.

The study polled 5,671 finance professionals in all, 1,583 of whom were from Singapore.

“Escalating bonus expectations is a tell-tale sign of a candidate-led market which has inevitable retention consequences,” said Mr McFerran. “Companies which fail to meet their staff’s growing expectations may find them leaving after bonus payout in the new year.”

Businesses such as Maybank are taking no chances. Its human resources head, Mr Wong Keng Fye, said the bank has always placed a high priority on retaining talent, with policies like cash salaries, benefits, learning opportunities and career development.

Mr Wong said the heightened expectations of bigger bonuses are probably due to the optimism about Singapore’s economic growth. He also agreed with Mr McFerran that there is a strong demand for skills and talent.

“Our bonuses this year were much better than last year’s, in line with Maybank Singapore’s better performance,” he said.

He expects pressure on wages to continue rising, and said Maybank regularly reviews its compensation packages to ensure they remain competitive. The company also promotes a balanced work-life culture as part of its talent retention plan, he said.

Mr Wong added that this policy has paid off, with staff turnover in 2009 at 0.71 per cent compared with the industry average of about 2 per cent.

Meanwhile, demand for finance professionals is still going strong.

Candidates with expertise in areas such as risk, compliance, audit and credit control are particularly sought after, according to the latest Asia job index from human resources firm Robert Walters.

It also noted that high-quality candidates remain in short supply and recruiting overseas is becoming increasingly common.

But finance executives are not the only workers expecting fatter pay packets next year. Human resources firm ECA International’s recent survey found that firms are expected to increase salaries by 4 per cent next year, compared with 3.1 per cent this year.

A poll by human resources company Aon Hewitt pointed to salaries rising 4.4 per cent in 2011, up on the 3.6 per cent boost this year.