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The eight best ways to escape Hong Kong banking for a corporate career

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Fancy leaving investment banking for a corporate development role at a company in Hong Kong? You may be more sought after than you’d imagine.

As we’ve reported recently, expansionist Chinese companies from Alibaba to Fosun are on the hunt for bankers to guide them through mergers and IPOs.

But if you’re currently working in investment banking in Hong Kong, what can you do to increase your chances of successfully starting a corporate career? Here are some tips.

1. Target companies from China

Western multi-nationals are not your best if you want to start a corporate development career in Hong Kong. “There are two common routes for bankers looking to move: mainland conglomerates and local Hong Kong corporates,” says Jason Ne Win, an executive search consultant at Dore Partnership.

2. Get your size right

You are likely to get a job with a company of a similar size to that of your current clients. “Candidates from the bulge bracket tend to attract attention from the bigger conglomerates, while those from boutique firms typically move to smaller ones,” says Ne Win.

3. You can move early

If you have fewer than five years’ experience in investment banking, a corporate career in Hong Kong is a much more viable option than it was just two or three years ago. Corporates from Greater China are no longer just hiring senior bankers – they now need junior staff to execute mergers and listings.

4. But find out if the role has a future

While investment banks are notorious for making layoffs, corporates aren’t guarantors of job security either. Bankers are advised to research the longer-term viability of any in-house roles they apply for. “If your company stops doing acquisitions, your job automatically becomes a waste of time for them – I’ve seen cases of this,” says Eunice Ng, director of headhunters Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong.

5. Don’t act like a banker

If you’re dealing with a client you hope might soon become your employer, or if you’re interviewing for an in-house job, don’t come across as a swaggering investment banker. “An unspoken rule among corporates is that the bankers they bring on board should be humble and be willing to learn the ins and outs of working within their culture,” says Ne Win.

6. Research the reality of your target companies

Even if you have a great knowledge of the business goals and financial standing of companies you want to work for, you must also research what it’s like to actually work for them. “Many bankers have an organ-donor rejection to joining a company because the environment is often slower and more bureaucratic, and many miss the dynamic cut and thrust of a bank,” says William Bown, head of Asia global banking and private equity at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Hong Kong.

7. Have a background in M&A

As large companies from China continue to make acquisitions overseas, people with an M&A background are generally most in demand. “But some smaller firms may be gearing towards an IPO and would recruit individuals with ECM/IPO experience to aid in their listing,” says Ne Win.

8. Specialise in a hot sector

“Industry bankers may also be sought after if the job requirements are more sector specific than product focused. Traditionally, FIG and real estate have been the hottest sectors to make a transition,” says Ne Win. More recently, however, Chinese technology companies have been the most aggressive recruiters of bankers.

Image credit: lzf, Getty

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