The stellar results from China’s big four banks have hit the headlines recently. First-half net profits have jumped by more than 25 per cent at Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and China Construction Bank. It’s no surprise then that mainland banks have been candidate shopping, even in these downbeat times. Some firms are even looking beyond the local populace for talent.
Jason Tan, director of financial services and banking, PSD Group, Shanghai, says Chinese banks have expanded on all fronts – with front-office functions like treasury and sales commanding the highest volume of hires. However, although the first quarter of the year was active, recruitment in Q3 has slowed down somewhat. He says: “The first half of the year was about getting the top revenue generators for the bank. Now it’s about recruiting staff who can best obtain deposits to shore up the bank’s balance sheets.”
Getting what you don’t have
Recruiters acknowledge a greater openness among mainland firms in employing expat bankers. “Hiring foreigners assumes these candidates have certain technical skills which are rare in China. In 2011, this demand was for credit sales, traders, market risk and Basel expertise,” says Tan.
He explains that most Chinese firms are looking to become Basel III champions globally, which explains the aggressive recruitment drive for consultants to build a more risk-based structure and methodology.
Chinese firms also have an increasing appetite to recruit expats for their Hong Kong offices even if such hires are not in large numbers. This is mainly in front-office roles, according to another headhunter, who declined to be named. But although Mandarin is almost always mandatory for job seekers in China, he says he’s seen foreign expats from US, UK, Australia and France being considered even without language proficiency. The recruiter lists Bank of China and China Construction Bank as being the “most active” in hiring foreigners.
John Byrne, director, Wheat, explains the reason for the greater employment diversity: “Firstly, expats bring in global expertise and knowledge gained from the bulge-bracket banks. Secondly, the most immediate way of demonstrating that a firm is truly global is by having a diverse client-facing team.”
One other plus point: Hiring foreigners with their own networks can enable firms to tap on relationships which they may have struggled with previously, adds Byrne. Most Chinese firms in Hong Kong, however, will at least insist on candidates with Asian experience.