American banks in Hong Kong are more renowned for redundancies than recruitment in the current market. But Citi continues to buck this trend.
“It’s too early to know the exact numbers, but I’d expect 2017 hiring levels in Hong Kong to be similar to 2016. And we’ll see the usual seasonable spike in Q2,” says James Mendes, head of Asia Pacific recruitment at Citi.
Front-office jobs will be key to Citi’s recruitment plans next year. “We’ll be hiring across all areas of the bank. Hong Kong is a core hub for many of our businesses, including sales and trading, investment banking, private banking, consumer banking, treasury and trade solutions, and support functions,” says Mendes.
“We’ll be opportunistically looking to hire new people to support our growth strategy – particularly in sales, insurance and relationship management – as well as replacing staff who leave,” he adds
Mendes says attracting relationship managers – for private banking and for the mass-affluent Citigold platform – is particularly difficult in Hong Kong.
“The talent pool of certified RMs here isn’t growing very much. But we have a good brand name, a strong digital and product platform, and competitive compensation. Referrals are also key to hiring in wealth because it’s a small community,” he adds.
In technology, Citi is recruiting “in large volumes” in markets such as India and China, but Mendes says the bank doesn’t have a “low-cost-only location strategy”. “So we’ll be hiring in Hong Kong too. For example, in front-office technology roles we’ll recruit algo-trading developers – Java and C# are the key requirements.”
Citi Hong Kong also wants business analysts with tech background, as well as people with rapid application development (RAD) experience and Java, KDB or Python skills.
Surprisingly, however, the middle office is no longer a growth priority for Citi in Hong Kong.
“We’ve seen a big headcount increase in control functions – risk, compliance, internal audit – over the past two years as we’ve had to react quickly to changing regulations. Now we’ve achieved our build-out, so most hiring in these areas in 2017 will be to replace people, not to add extra headcount,” explains Mendes.
As in Singapore, Citi is not scaling back its campus recruitment in Hong Kong. “At this stage we think that graduate numbers for 2017 will be slightly up on this year. Banking is still very attractive to Hong Kong graduates – we’ve seen an increase in applications,” says Mendes.
Citi is also “revamping” its internships for 2017. “We’re including more digital project work and more bank-wide training courses regardless of the department you work in. And we want to convert an even higher proportion of our interns into full-time employees.”
If you end up joining Citi next year Mendes says you must “be agile and embrace ambiguity” on the job. “Being agile means having the ability to deal with the rapid pace of technological change in banking. You don’t know what your role will be in five years.”
And he says banking professionals must always have a “tech bias” in their thinking. “For example, think about robotics process automation and the digital requirements of the customer.”
But doesn’t that mean eventually doing yourself out of a job?
Mendes disagrees. “There’s a misconception that technology will end banking jobs. It won’t – it will shift jobs to other parts of the organisation, let people get on with what they’re good at, and create new opportunities for learning and development.”
Image credit: Citi