Want a job in China? Do the CFA

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If you want a job in Chinese financial services, international qualifications, in particular the Chartered Financial Analyst and Master of Business Administration programmes, are becoming more important to your chances.

Employers in China are increasingly clamouring for people with the CFA. But there are currently only 2,600 qualified CFA charterholders in China, according to a Hong Kong-based spokesperson for the CFA Institute.

This number is set to rise. There were 34,000 registrations from China, about 16% of global figure, for the December 2012 and June 2013 CFA exams combined – a 13% increase over the December 2011 and June 2012 total.

While the burgeoning candidate pool points to the growing importance of the qualification, not all students in China, as elsewhere, will get through all three exams levels and clinch the qualification. For those taking June 2012 CFA exams globally, 38% passed at level one, 42% at level two, and 52% at level three.

“The CFA is a good basis for building a career in financial services in China, and is something that recruiters are looking for,” said Piter de Jong, managing director of the Shanghai branch of ING Bank. Banks in China like the CFA as it follows an international standardised exam and focuses on understanding financial statements, which is the “the core of banking business", he said.

“As many people do the CFA part-time in addition to work, being able to finish the qualification is also a sign of commitment and work attitude,” said de Jong.

Stephen He, a senior consultant at recruitment firm Kelly Services in Shanghai, said CFA charterholders were in demand at investment banks, consulting firms and securities houses in China. “In most cases, it’s the breakthrough qualification to enter investment banking,” he said.

The CFA was also required for many buy-side research or investment jobs in China, said Alistair Ramsbottom, managing director of Shanghai search firm The Blacklock Group. "Private equity firms, particularly foreign ones, like to emphasise the CFA when they recruit,” he said.

And if you plan to stick with your current employer in China, getting the qualification could boost your chances of promotion, said Flora Shi, a senior consultant at recruitment agency Morgan McKinley in Shanghai.

Add on an MBA

Recruiters in China said that while the CFA was the most desirable foreign qualification, international banks and Chinese investment banks also liked to hire MBA graduates from elite overseas business schools. These include Harvard, Yale, MIT, Columbia, New York University, Chicago Booth, Oxford, Cambridge and the London Business School.

Many of the local Chinese managing directors at big Chinese investment banks, in particular CITIC and CICC, have MBAs from such universities, said Jason Tan, director of financial services and banking at recruiters PSD Group in Shanghai. “MBAs don't add that much value in China unless they are from a top Ivy League or global school,” added Ramsbottom from The Blacklock Group.

In Shanghai, the municipal government wants to make the city an international financial centre by 2020. This means financial institutions need to hire more staff with global qualifications.

“Chinese finance professionals studying MBAs abroad are exposed not only to advanced technical knowledge, but also to sophisticated ways of strategic thinking in mature capital markets, which is exactly what China is trying to build,” said Vince Chan, chief executive of the consultancy AlphaPowerMBA in Hong Kong.

By contrast to investment banking, China’s Big Four commercial banks – Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China – tended to hire MBA graduates from local universities, said Tan from PSD. Degrees from Peking University, Tsinghua University and Fudan University were among the most sough after, said Vivian Lin Thurston president of the Chinese Finance Association of America.

“Getting a commercial banking job in China does not require an international degree. Their business is still very much a simple lending model with some treasury products,” said Tan.

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