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Expat bankers in China: Dinosaurs or future stars?

Foreign bankers are still in demand at international banks in China and will be needed in the future to help build Shanghai into a global financial centre, but they can only fill a limited number of functions.

“Generally foreign banks in China with a strong focus on regional or global synchronisation tend to have a demand for Western expat bankers with no Chinese language skills for senior management roles. Due to the seniority of these roles, the amount is not large,” explains Shearer Liu, banking consultant, Talent2 Beijing.

One employee from a foreign bank, who asked not to be named, says there’s still a 50/50 split between foreign and local employees in his Shanghai office.

Expat bankers are most in demand for senior roles which don’t require actively managing local clients, and positions where specialist knowledge of a particular banking product is required. Example include: product managers to support the development of the whole China area (including Taiwan); corporate banking team leaders; and sales management roles which having an established client base.

However, M&A, fund raising and trade finance positions – which involve communication with Chinese clients wanting to attract funding or partners in the West – require fluency in both English and Mandarin, ruling out most Westerners.

But what is the long-term outlook for foreigners? “As everyone knows, China is a fast growing emerging market and so is its banking industry. But the industry faces the bottleneck of a lack of senior banking talents, especially at management level and in technical areas like risk control. Therefore qualified Western bankers will continue to be demand in the near future by global banks as well as local Chinese banks – for example, the former Shenzhen Development Bank CEO Frank Newman,” adds Liu.

The Shanghai Financial Service Office has also made it clear that in order to become a global financial banking centre like Hong Kong, it needs to attract high-level professionals from overseas – both returning Chinese and expats.

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