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From private jets to private banking: exciting career changes in Chinese financial services

Private jet

Financial services employers in mainland China are a fairly flexible lot when it comes to recruitment.

Liberalisation in Chinese financial services is creating new, more specialised jobs – in both front-office and regulatory functions – at a rapid rate. But a shortage of trained, experienced finance professionals in China means that firms often consider candidates who aren’t a 100% match to the job description.

For candidates in China, the talent shortage is opening up more possibilities for making a career change. Here are some interesting moves which are helping to shape the job market in China right now.

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Luxury sales into private banking

In Hong Kong and Singapore, private banks are hiring mass-affluent retail bankers to bolster their relationship-management ranks; in China they are casting their recruitment net much wider. Private banks in the mainland don’t offer as extensive a product range as those in developed financial markets, so they have more scope to recruit candidates who have strong links to wealthy people but lack knowledge of banking products.

“One candidate I just placed into a US private bank in China was previously at a Big Four consulting firm, with 10 years’ corporate-finance experience in the energy industry,” says Howard Huo, a private wealth recruitment consultant from search firm Pro-Matrix in Beijing.

“Another was in VIP sales at an exclusive car brand and had solid relationships with ultra-high net worth customers. A European bank hired him,” adds Huo. Private banks in mainland China have also recently poached sales people from the private-jet and luxury-boat sectors, and even from executive golf clubs, according to Huo.

Candidates making a career change into Chinese private banking are typically recruited at AVP to SVP level. “Top corporate and investment bankers also fit the role, but generally they don’t show that much interest in moving into private banking. There’s no need for them to transfer if they are successful at what they do now,” says Huo.

CEOs and CFOs become corporate bankers

As we reported earlier this year, both foreign and domestic banks in China are competing fiercely to hire corporate-banking relationship managers (RMs). “It’s a revenue-generating and evergreen sector and in China there’s a severe shortage of RMs,” says Peter Ng, head of banking and financial services, greater China, at recruitment agency MRIC Group.

“International banks are now targeting senior executives from outside the banking sector, such as CFOs or semi-retired CEOs who have accumulated lots of industry knowledge and connections,” says Ng.

Corporate banks are willing to offer large salaries to poach wealthy executives, in the hope they will convert their personal and business contacts into new customers (and additional revenue). “Senior execs are usually in their comfort zone and might even be rich enough to retire,” says Ng. “But some think ‘why not take this new challenge? I can leverage the network I have built up throughout my career’.”

“In the case of hiring a CFO as a senior RM, the advantage is that they know exactly which products to offer to clients. But they may not be as sophisticated as a CEO in terms of sales techniques and may not have as many connections,” explains Ng.

Investment banking into private equity

“The private equity market is booming in China and needs a large volume of talent in a short period,” says Monica Song, manager of banking and financial services at recruiters Hudson in Shanghai. “PE firms like bankers with solid skills in modeling and due diligence, who are used to frequent travel and working under pressure,” she adds.

Moving into the fledging private equity sector in China may not give you an immediate career boost. “Last year we placed a VP from a global investment bank into a local tier-one private equity fund, but he was offered a senior associate role,” says Erick Zhou, associate director, banking and financial services, at Lloyd Morgan Executive in Shanghai.

Career progression, however, can be rapid in Chinese PE. “With his deal experience, this candidate has now proved himself not only as an executor but also as an originator, helping the firm build a strong pipeline,” says Zhou. “He’s now on the board of three portfolio companies, helping them to solve business problems and to upgrade their finance, sales and marketing.”

As elsewhere, candidates are motivated to move into private equity in China to achieve a better work-life balance and to escape the modeling-and-pitching treadmill of investment banking, says Zhou.

“It also gives more real exposure to various or specific sectors and to how a business works at an operational level. The job can be much more interesting than simply dealing with M&As and IPOs; you work with entrepreneurs to handle different business challenges and eventually help companies grow.”


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