Chinese banks in Hong Kong have been busy staffing up so far this year, but agency recruiters are now noticing another, more worrying trend: disgruntled new hires at these banks are calling them looking for an early exit.
Large mainland corporate and investment banks in the territory are targeting talent from Western rivals. For example, BOC International, the Hong Kong-based offshore unit of Bank of China, and China Merchants Securities both poached dozens of staff from HSBC’s Asian securities unit in March.
And as we noted last month, to boost their attractiveness to employees of global firms, Chinese banks are buying out deferred bonuses with cash guarantees. They are also offering an enticing array of ad-hoc bonuses and family-friendly HR policies.
Their reason for their apparent largess is clear: “We know there’s a danger soon that some of the people we’ve hired will be tempted to leave us,” said a representative from a Chinese bank who attended an eFinancialCareers roundtable for HR professionals in Hong Kong last month.
For "soon", read "now". Recruiters in Hong Kong and mainland China are already fielding enquires from people who’ve recently joined Chinese banks and have now quit or are planning to. Jason Tan, a partner at search firm Being & Associates, has spoken to several people with a tenure of less than six months at a mainland institution.
“I've even seen some bankers leaving after just one month,” adds Levina Poon, director, financial services, at recruiters ConnectedGroup in Hong Kong. “Of course others stay because it might be tough for them to find such an attractive package elsewhere, but it doesn’t mean they’re all happy.”
Non-Mandarin speakers and/or bankers who only possessed "global-platform experience" often struggle to adapt to the workplace culture of Chinese banks, says Stanley Soh, regional director of Asian financial services at search firm Global Sage in Hong Kong. “The head office in China has significant executive authority, hence there may be less flexibility in decision-making in the Hong Kong offices.”
So how do you avoid being overwhelmed by the office culture of a Chinese bank when you first join one? Recruiters who’ve seen candidates succeed (and fail) during their first months offer the following tips:
Chinese banks tend to be even more hierarchical than Western ones. “So it’s important to find a senior Chinese executive to be your strong sponsor for future career progression,” says Soh.
You can read our more detailed synopsis of how to give and receive “face” (respect) in a Chinese workplace by clicking here, but it’s particularly essential to adhere to the concept when dealing with your superiors, says Soh. If they lose face and it’s your fault, your career will be in peril. “Effective communication and peaceful handling of business discussions is very important,” he adds.
“Dress like your colleagues: wear the bank’s corporate tie and don’t flash your favourite fashion,” says Tan from Being & Associates. “And eat with your colleagues or your boss in the corporate canteen.”
Expect to spend much of your day in meetings, but as a new recruit, it’s often better to keep quiet and defer to your more experienced colleagues. Never speak out of turn. “Be a good observer, been seen as taking good notes, and avoid appearing like an outsider – don’t use English and Mandarin in the same sentence, for example,” says Stephen He, a partner at Falcon Talent Consulting.
You may have been hired for your global skills, but it’s best not to immediately force them down colleagues’ throats. “Don’t go in with the intention of ‘I’m going to change things right away’. Observe and sit back and try to win over internal relationships; gaining trust from people is key to success,” advises Poon from ConnectedGroup.
The decision-making process at Chinese banks, especially at the large state-owned ones, tends to be drawn-out and to involve many stakeholders, says Poon. This is something you need to get used to rather than challenge.