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Guest Comment: I’ve seen a huge increase in Hong Kong candidates returning home from the West

There has been a big increase in the number of native Hong Kong (as well as mainland Chinese) financial services professionals returning to Hong Kong from Western financial centres, in particular London and New York. Percentage wise it is difficult to put a precise number on the figures because it varies from sector to sector. However, I would say anecdotally that we are seeing a 40 per cent rise compared with a year ago.

There are two main routes that candidates are taking in returning home: either transferring with their current firm, if it is a large international bank, or leaving their employer in the West and securing a new job externally. The latter is obviously more difficult – many candidates have resigned from their role and come back without guaranteed employment because they job search can only start in earnest once they are on the ground here.

Banks seem to be a good deal more open to transferring Cantonese and/or Mandarin speakers back to Hong Kong, rather than moving their European or North American employees.

The main reason for the returnee trend is struggling Western economies. Even the relatively well performing Australian market has slowed down and Sydney doesn’t hold as much employment opportunity as Hong Kong. All the market turmoil makes Hong Kong a more attractive place to be situated.

People who were born and raised here, but educated and have worked abroad, now feel the time is right to return. They believe that there are more career opportunities here because of the continued growth of Asian economies and the relatively strong performance of the Asian financial markets.

Access all areas

All areas of financial services have seen repatriation of native Hong Kong and Chinese bankers, but whether you are able to make this transition depends on your experience and track record. Senior operations professionals have strong process and product knowledge, but if they have never worked in Asian securities markets, they might struggle.

Equally, front-office moves are largely determined by how well a candidate knows the Hong Kong and (more importantly these days) the mainland market. As a result, senior hires usually need to have worked in Asia at some stage of their career. Junior to mid-level hires, however, don’t necessarily have to have this experience if there is an open opportunity here that matches their skill set and experience. Big four trained and qualified accountants will find it relatively easy to make the transition back to Hong Kong because most of these firms will be open to hiring them.

Too great expectations

Returnee candidates sometimes have unrealistic salary expectations because they feel their experience in London or New York makes them more valuable than someone who has spent their entire career in Asia. However, very often (especially in relationship-driven front-office roles) the candidate who has spent the most time in the local market is the most desirable.

By and large, returning candidates are moving back on packages that are equal to their base salaries in the West, while some are taking haircuts on their existing remuneration due to lower income tax in Hong Kong. Relocation packages are almost non-existent now.

How to plan your homecoming

Local candidates looking to return should firstly explore international transfers within their current employers because this is logistically the easiest way to make things happen. You also have the added benefit of internal relationships and continuing service with the same employer, which should make the move easier.

If this isn’t possible, the best advice is to carry out a good deal of due diligence on the Hong Kong market itself – i.e. salary benchmarking, most active hiring areas, and the relevancy of your experience to the local market.

If you are from Hong Kong you should have friends, colleagues and family who can provide you with much of this information, but it is also advisable to engage the services of a trusted recruitment consultant who is based in Hong Kong, rather than someone who lives elsewhere and recruits remotely for Hong Kong roles.

John Mullally, manager, financial services, Robert Walters Hong Kong

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