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THE CHINA COLUMN: are Singaporeans becoming more open to careers in China?

It was a busy December for executives from the Chinese banking industry. They travelled all the way to London, New York and Singapore to look for one special resource: top bankers.

More than 18 financial institutions from China attended this international recruiting drive, including Bank of China, Shanghai Stock Exchange, CITIC Securities, CIC and CICC. In Singapore alone, the event attracted more than 1,000 candidates, competing for 117 jobs. Each position’s annual salary topped S$250,000.

With China’s role in global financial services becoming more and more important, I spoke to several Singaporean bankers recently and asked whether they are keen on careers in China.
Here’s what they had to say (full names omitted at their request)…

“I would definitely take up the opportunity to work in China. This would be a good chance to be exposed to a different banking and working culture.” – W.L, OCBC.

“I do want to go to China; the market is huge and has a lot of potential.” – D.P, CIMB.

“China, as a location is not a problem at all. I would consider an opportunity only if the reasons are overwhelming, like a good package and a senior position.” – K, Goldman Sachs.

It’s obvious that Singaporean bankers’ passion for working in China is on the rise, with many believing the experience will be a boon for their future career development. Firms in Shanghai and Beijing, are already employing an increasing number of Singaporean bankers.

“I went to work for a major European bank in Taiwan in 2003, and then decided to take an opening with the same firm in Beijing in 2007. Given the growth differentials, the size of the Chinese economy, and the training for my children in what will be the world’s largest economy in the future, it makes sense.” – K.C.

Mandarin matters

Singaporean bankers potentially have competitive advantages in terms of language and culture over those from Western countries, but many need to brush up on their Mandarin before they can compete for jobs in the mainland.

K.C explains: “I picked up Mandarin in Taiwan after many lost years in Singapore, so that experience helped me a lot when I came to Beijing, where meetings and emails are mostly conducted in Chinese. My advice is to improve Chinese competency, especially reading and speaking. I am still taking classes here in Beijing.”

“My Mandarin is not good enough to conduct business in China. We may be able to speak Mandarin in easy daily conversations, but not in business style,” comments K from Goldman Sachs.

End of the expat package?

As China opens itself up to the world, it is becoming more diversified. This is good news for bankers from different parts of the globe. Today, foreigners in general find it easier to live in Beijing and Shanghai than they did just five years ago, but it is undeniable that their lifestyle there is linked to the package they receive.

“I’m on an expat package, which is now increasingly rare. It covers relocation, housing, tax differential and schooling. If I were to face the same choice without the same package, it could be tough,” says K.C.

It is becoming more and more uncommon to find complete expat deals. Nevertheless, some Singaporean bankers have a very positive outlook on China’s banking industry. More than anything else, they value what the experience and exposure could do to advance their careers.

Comments (2)

  1. China is a market guess most people love or hate. Being Singaporean, we have some language advantages that can also work against us. We are assumed by the Chinese we understand what they are trying to convey, and vice versa. Besides, we may be well verse with the foreign markets and their business practice, when working in China, we have to understand equally proficiently how businesses are conducted in onshore China.
    A lateral move to China for a similar job and title may not necessary be not meaningful. One should look at it as a whole.
    Anyone who is single or without too much financial or family commitment should seriously consider relocating to a market like China.

  2. Actually I’ve seen quite a lot Singaporean working in Shanghai and Beijing. Some of them work in hotel industry and some of them in banking industry. Undeniable it takes time for them to adjust, but for long term development, China is a good place simply because there is more space to play your role and extend your skills.

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