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Downsizing: Why small is sometimes more beautiful for Chinese bankers

Bigger may not always be better when it comes to nabbing a banking job in the mainland. Shanghai recruiters are seeing a trend whereby more bankers are quitting large firms to move into smaller ones.

I’ve been there, done that. Just give me my free time

This year Debbie Zhao, consultant, financial services, Robert Walters Shanghai, has seen a 10 to 20 per cent increase in candidates who make such moves as compared with last year. Likewise Johannes Tan, senior consultant of financial services and banking, PSD Shanghai, has seen a rise in the number of bankers choosing mid to small-size banks. Increasingly, senior candidates who have “already been there and done that” prefer having work-life balance.

Tan explains: “The bigger banks are perceived by candidates to have more bureaucracy, more pressure and more overtime. The assumption is that moving to a smaller firm will be less stressful. Such moves are quite common, especially for experienced bankers at the director-level who have already worked in tier-one banks.”

Such is the Chinese love for work-life balance that an anonymous headhunter told us that there are candidates who willingly give up job offers that pay more in favour of positions which pay slightly less but are less demanding.

Moving for your career

Downsizing can provide a more fulfilling career track for certain finance professionals, says Zhao. Employees of small firms may derive more satisfaction working in job functions with a broader scope, rather than just focusing on a narrow job function in a huge corporation.

“Some candidates would rather be a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a big pond.” The move may also pay off in terms of having a prestigious new title. Although it may take six to seven years to become a manager in a large bank, you can do it in just four to five years at a smaller firm.

The carrot: money, of course

Although such companies may be tinier, they do offer monetary incentives in luring candidates over from the big boys. Tan says: “These firms definitely need to pay more to attract candidates in China. On average they may pay an increase of about 20 to 30 per cent.”

Our anonymous source says the banks which have been popular among Chinese candidates tend to be the mid to small European banks, although Nomura is also ramping up its presence in China.

The flip side

Going small does have its drawbacks. Tan says although younger candidates get the opportunity to multi-task at boutique firms, only experience at large banks gives them enough exposure to sophisticated products and platforms.

Likewise, Zhao points out: “A smaller bank might not be locally incorporated; therefore it may not have all the business licenses to trade or sell products.”

Considering downsizing? It’ll be best to hold onto to your current job for the rest of this year. Zhao says most of the smaller companies aren’t hiring now unless it’s for an urgent replacement. Recruitment will resume again at the end of Q1 next year.

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