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The China Column: Relax, you’re at a local bank; Panic, you’re at a foreign bank

There are more and more vacancies these days at both local and foreign banks in China. These positions are across the board: cashiers, credit, compliance – all the way up to CEOs.

But nowhere is the battle between domestic and overseas firms as intense as in sales. As Miss Wang, an HR director of a state-owned commercial bank in Shanghai, recently explained: “Based on what we have seen in the past two years, Chinese banks will keep focusing on attracting a large number of sales people.”

The logic behind her statement is simple. Banks in China are expending a great deal of effort in attracting and retaining high quality clients, so they need more sales people to develop these relationships.

Chinese banks used to prefer candidates with a degree in banking or finance, but this is changing, says Wang. Instead of focusing on tertiary qualifications, which might not reveal much about the person’s sales capabilities, local firms are becoming more interested in finding out about communication and leadership abilities. These interpersonal skills will largely determine if someone has the potential to be a good salesperson.

Candidates see the benefits of Chinese banks

But do salespeople want to work for local banks? The answer, usually, is yes.

To sales candidates who have recently graduated and have limited work experience, local banks are typically their first choice because of better benefits and allowances, and a comparatively relaxed working environment.

Hu Jia Liang, a post-graduate from Tongji University, has been working for a major Chinese bank for a year. As a management trainee, his base salary is not as attractive as some of his peers at foreign banks, but if you include all the benefits, his total compensation is comparable.

Moreover, his working environment is less stressful than at most foreign banks because local firms usually already have a large number of sustainable, long-term clients. Foreign banks need to build their networks.

Stress is making young people shy away form overseas banks. And these days it is becoming more common for candidates at foreign institutions to consider moving to local ones.

A personal choice

The choice between foreign and local really depends on what a candidate wants in the future. If he or she desires a challenge and to emerge stronger in terms of business development ability, foreign banks could be the ideal place. Their programmes are also usually better than those at domestic firms.

Nevertheless, foreign banks are also known to have an informal glass ceiling for local employees. It’s rare to see some local mid-level management move up to the top ranks, at least not at the moment.

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