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It’s hard to keep track, but foreign banks are seemingly back in favour again in China

Candidate movements between foreign and Chinese banks are continually dynamic. Recently, generous salary increments at foreign banks have livened up the China recruitment landscape yet again.

Emma Charnock, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong and China, says: “In general the market is still going upwards so banks are ready to offer higher salaries in order to attract the right talent. Base pay has increased by about 30 to 40 per cent, and more aggressive bonus schemes are also suggested.”

Shearer Liu, a recruiter specialising in wealth management, says candidate movement between foreign banks and mainland banks have been “quite volatile”. He says: “There was initially a trend of candidates moving from foreign banks to Chinese banks. Now candidates are switching back to foreign banks again. The main reason is due to the increased expansion and investment (including salary increments) of foreign banks in the China market.”

Liu says another reason why foreign banks are back in favour is because the talent pool at Chinese firms is “overflowing”. An employee in a Chinese bank, who declined to be named, says there are too many candidates competing for jobs at mainland firms, making working there as stressful as at foreign firms.

Besides, job hopping seems to be an effective way in China to fatten up one’s pay cheque. Kyle Qin, associate consultant at Shfinder Talent Services, says more pay is the key reason why candidates switch jobs, rather than other factors like job pressure or a bad boss. “Positions like treasury, trade and relationship managers are subject to big salary increases – sometimes more than 30 per cent. Most candidates normally cannot get that sort of compensation via internal promotion. It is definitely not a healthy increase.”

No choice

While such expensive pay increases may not be sustainable in the long run, most firms don’t have an alternative. Charnock says: “This trend will still go on for the next three to five years. China is such a highly competitive market, key players are not just foreign banks but also large and second-tier local banks, thus the candidate war continues. Many banks feel they have no choice but to pay more to poach candidates from competitors to maintain their market place.”

Such bidding wars won’t continue indefinitely. Foreign banks which downsize abroad may not be any less generous salary-wise in China for now, but such practices are not sustainable in the long run, says Qin. However, in areas like investment banking and securities, salary rises tend to be more subdued.

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