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Seven reasons why foreign banks in China always face a talent shortage

As summer approaches, students are looking for their first job after graduation and lots of firms are busy signing contracts with local and returnee graduates, hoping they can start by August. But there’s still a big talent shortage in China and it’s not just at graduate level. Moreover, it’s particularly strong for foreign banks. Here are some reasons why.

1) Too choosy

Foreign banks often have higher recruitment thresholds than domestic ones, requiring candidates to have well balanced competences and the ability to cope with stress. For non-graduate positions they can also be more rigid when it comes to the experience level required.

2) Culture clashes

Different ways of working make it difficult for foreign banks to effectively tap the talent pool of their local rivals. Professionals who hop from Chinese banks to foreign ones can’t always keep up with the faster working pace and additional stress. One HR director, who asked not to be named, says there is a “significant gap in culture, compensation and benefits, job security and career paths”.

3) Pressure

Foreign firms are under pressure to quickly expand their customer base and headcount. This means they only appeal to candidates who want to rapidly hone their skills at banks which are constantly pushing for better access to the local market. Chinese banks by contrast attract a greater proportion of job seekers because they offer established and stable workplaces.

4) Glass ceiling

As one employee of a foreign bank recently told me, there’s another important reason why international banks aren’t for everyone. Despite several high profile examples of local leaders, there is still a glass ceiling for many Chinese employees, especially if they want to move from middle to senior management.

5) Education

Foreign banks want independent, creative and communicative graduates but the education system in China is not producing enough of them, says the HR director. Returnees from overseas universities are still needed to support growth at foreign banks but the high demand for these graduates makes them difficult to hire. Every bank wants them.

6) Too new

Underlying all this of course is the fact that the financial sector in China has only developed quite recently and has done so very rapidly, meaning that the talent pool is limited at all levels compared with more mature financial centres.

7) Language limitations

The need to have Mandarin-speaking employees means Beijing and Shanghai can’t reply on imported talent to the same extent as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Comments (4)

  1. Number 6 really sums it up.

    One more though:
    8) Too ‘Me too’:
    These banks are doing a poor job at differentiating themselves to the talent pool. The talent is scarce, so we know they are going to have options. Why not give them a reason to choose your bank?

    If I see another recruitment ad / brochure / banner / careers site of a smiling young asian professional in a suit, telling me my ‘Dream Career Starts Here’ I will be sick.

    C’mon people… THINK ABOUT IT!!! Try something different… offer something unique…
    – Take an interest in their family and offer a small gift to their spouse / kids?
    – Set up ‘meet our people’ nights where your team gets a free dinner and candidates can meet your people informally? (they can sell your company!)
    – Offer candidates a ‘wardrobe allowance’ (from a good brand) on signing so they look good and feel great from day one?

    Did anyone see Hipsta this week? looking for top tech talent – offered bonuses like a $10,000 referral fee and gimmicks like a ‘one-years supply of beer’ for new recruits… expensive maybe, but how much does a headhunter charge and isn’t the added exposure and actual consideration of application worth it?

  2. I have qualified all 7 areas, why nobody headhunted me?

  3. At the same time, it seems to some of us (who understand both the western business culture and the local Chinese culture) that finding a way to work in China is extremely difficult due to mismatch of functions/roles and lack of exit options for worst case scenarios.

  4. Suggested two means in help enlarging the candidate pool:

    1) Entice candidates from financial service industry (FSI) in Taiwan:
    I used to work as headhunter in Taiwan mainly served FSI before I relocated to Shanghai in 2007, Taiwanese staff in FSI are comparatively mature than China’s owing to foreign banks firstly entered the Taiwanese market retrospective in 1980’s, the corporate ethics, cultural competencies and sufficient academic background had been well cultivated through those years despite smaller market size of the Taiwan market.

    2) Provide “executive coaching” to key staff who are on the managerial succession list
    Ten years ago, executive coaching was not the buzzword it is today. Now, coaching is an increasingly popular tool for supporting personal development. Through the process of self-awareness and self-belief, an experience coach may help candidates believe in their business ability, and gain the confidence to consider undertaking projects that were outside of their current capability.

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