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Chinese returnees are now wanted by both local and foreign banks

Qianhai wants to look like this

Qianhai wants to look like this

Foreign banks in China have long courted returnee Chinese nationals from global financial centres like London and New York – now local banks are after them, too.

“A new phenomenon is that ambitious overseas-educated candidates are starting to favour local institutions over foreign firms as they believe that there is a glass ceiling in foreign firms for Chinese nationals,” says Nardia Munt, practice director and deputy GM, MRI China.

Returnees often perceive that they are more likely to become a SVP, department head or even CEO in a Chinese bank, she says. “Their view is that if they want to be a decision maker, they need to work for a company that is headquartered in China rather than spending their whole career taking orders from overseas bosses.”

Demand meets supply

As the Big Four banks – Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China – expand internationally, they will need more returnees with mature-market experience and product knowledge. “In 2013, we expect the top-four local banks to launch shipping-finance, and RMB-based commercial banking products and services across Asia and Europe,” says Jason Tan, director of financial services and banking, PSD Group Shanghai. “And the local investment banks are expected to launch their programme-trading business to increase direct market access.”

Product, risk, back-office, decision-making, and functional roles (ie finance and HR) benefit the most from overseas experience, adds Munt. “For front-office, relationship-management or sales jobs, which require knowledge of local clients, it’s useful only when running a large division or if the firm has clients overseas.”

Tan says investment banks like CICC and CITIC are keen on foreign experience for senior roles. “I have ex-clients who were previously with Lehman Brothers, UBS and Goldman Sachs overseas and are now plying their trade with CICC. The positions occupied are all product or IT based; rarely do you see them holding a relationship role.”

Of course, foreign-headquartered firms in China also value overseas work experience, and have the additional motivation of wanting people who speak English and can communicate with senior management both in China and at head office. “Lack of English-language ability is one of the main reasons why Chinese candidates are rejected from foreign institutions – even European firms based in France or Germany,” says Munt. Candidates’ ability to understand reporting requirements and best-practice regulations is also increased if they have worked in a highly regulated environment like Europe or the US, she adds.

Joint efforts

Xiangjun Hao, secretary general, Shanghai Financial Association, says universities can help attract overseas-based Chinese back to country. Institutions like CEIBS, SAIF, and NYU Shanghai not only run financial MBA and EMBA courses, they also conduct joint training programmes with local financial companies. “Shanghai can benefit from experienced financial talent trainers from world-renown financial centres such as New York and Tokyo to jointly establish financial-sector senior-management training programmes,” says Hao.

To secure the best international talent, Hao reckons Shanghai needs to restructure its recruitment system to make it more market-driven and competitive. “Shanghai must also reform its remuneration-distribution system to form strong intellectual-capital incentives. Shanghai has to strive to work out other benefits for financial talents, such as tax incentives, social benefits, living expenses, medical expenses, and training expenses.”

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