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The ups and downs of recruiting RMs in second-tier Chinese cities

Foreign banks are speeding up their expansion into second- and third-tier cities in China. Recently, for example, Citibank and BEA have set up branches in Hunan province: There are job openings across 13 departments in BEA alone.

But when banks need relationship managers in regional centres, a small talent pool can hamper their hiring.

Emma Charnock, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong and China, says: “Especially for those cities in the west and middle part of China, such as Chongqing, Guiyang, Chengdu, Wuhan, Xian, Kunming etc, recruitment becomes more and more difficult. These cities lack the experience of some other coastal cities, such as Tianjin or Dalian, which have over 20 years of experience since the first foreign banks set up their rep offices. ”

Sometimes firms have to recruit from outside the region, but, says Wendy Wu, finance consultant at Antal International in Shanghai, it can be difficult to convince finance professionals from Shanghai to move to smaller cities.

A stepping stone

However, there are exceptions. Moving to a city near Shanghai, such as Ningbo or Hangzhou, is sometimes seen as a stepping stone to gaining a promotion within a foreign bank. “Often their HR departments will hire RMs by providing a relatively high salary and encouraging career development strategies. I’ve witnessed candidates taking these roles for two or three years, before returning back to Shanghai with some good managerial experience under their belts,” says Wu.

Sarah Jones, manager of Antal International in Shanghai, says foreign banks are in a fortunate position because their branding alone can be enough to entice good candidates looking to build their CV.

Still, they must anticipate the needs of their candidates when hiring outside of Shanghai and Beijing. They may have to consider providing considerable benefits such as housing and school fees, for example, if they want exceptional staff. “If banks can find candidates who are originally from the second-tier city they are looking to recruit in, it will be far easier to entice them back,” adds Jones.

A stepping stone

China has a burgeoning problem of rising house prices in major cities, and so many people are returning back to their home towns anyway to rekindle family relations, settle down and buy a property, says Jones.

Charnock says for some senior roles – such as branch managers and corporate banking heads – a bank will usually second its own staff to fill the vacancies. They will receive a higher salary and other benefits, such as extra home leave, free transportation, and a housing allowance.

Talent poaching is getting aggressive in second-tier cities. Charnock says employees of the first few foreign banks to set up in the area are usually targeted by late-coming competitors.

There are certain skills needed to be a good RM in a regional city. “Candidates will need to be very responsive to the cultural nuances of the city. RMs require a lot of contact and trust from their clients, so hiring difficulties will lie in finding a candidate who can adapt to perhaps a new dialect, relate to different cultures, and yet support the aims and purpose of the foreign bank,” says Jones.

In the long term, training their own employees from the ground up is the preferred choice for most banks, says Charnock. Many foreign firms are therefore speeding up campus recruitment, in the hope of picking up high quality graduates for roles in regional cities.

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