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Should you shift to Shanghai from Hong Kong? (Hint, don’t do it for the money, focus on your long-term career)

Hong Kong bankers move to Shanghai to advance their long-term careers by gaining better hands-on experience with mainland transactions. Their own salaries are a secondary concern.

PRC experience is an important factor because “there appears to be increased flow of transactional deals, especially in the private equity space happening in China,” says Ricky Mui, manager, Robert Walters.

Stephen He, senior consultant, banking and finance, Consult Group, adds that working in Shanghai gives Hong Kong bankers opportunities to handle corporate finance deals from state-owned enterprises in sectors such as infrastructure and energy, which are not likely to be found on the same scale outside the mainland.

Hong Kong is a low-tax harbour and its banks generally pay Western-level salaries, so shifting moving to Shanghai does not often lead to higher net pay. “But I don’t think everyone is money driven. It’s more about new career opportunities and gaining China experience which is not available in Hong Kong,” comments He.

There are of course downsides to relocating. Mui says working in Shanghai may limit candidates’ skills and regional exposure. Although the city aspires to become a global financial centre, its current focus is on the domestic market.

By staying in Hong Kong, bankers at least gain some PRC experience, but their roles are also more likely to cover other countries within the (ex-Japan) Asia Pacific region. Bankers must choose which city best suits their geographical aspirations.

Mui says most Hong Kong bankers who want to move to Shanghai will opt for an internal transfer. “Hong Kongers are sensible; they usually will not come to Shanghai without an offer. After several years of experience in the mainland, they will have more confidence moving from one bank to another.”

From an employer’s perspective, Hong Kong bankers have language advantages over foreign expats. They also have a more sophisticated knowledge of innovative financial instruments and derivatives than most of their local Shanghai counterparts.

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