If you’re thinking of leaving a Chinese bank in Hong Kong to join an international firm in the city, you stand a much better chance of moving if you work in the front office.
Chinese banks are among the most aggressive recruiters in the Hong Kong finance sector – earlier this year, for example, BOC International and China Merchants Securities both poached dozens of staff from HSBC’s Asian securities unit. But Chinese banks also have a staff retention problem, with some of their recent Hong Kong recruits resigning within months of joining.
While mid and back-office candidates tend to leave Chinese banks because they’re unhappy with their salaries, front-office professionals are generally paid on par with global firms, says Sharon Chow, vice president, financial services, at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership. “Push factors in the front office include lack of career advancement because of a restrictive corporate hierarchy – especially at state-owned banks – and limited product capabilities,” she says.
Fortunately for disgruntled front-office staff at Chinese banks, they are more sought after at global firms than their counterparts in support roles. “Demand is mainly in the front office – people are hired from mainland banks for their client relationships and understanding of the Chinese market rather than their technical skills,” says John Mullally, associate director, financial services, at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong. “Aside from these people, the overall quality of candidates from Chinese banks is often not in line with what the international banks are seeking.”
Senior bankers with “proven experience” of serving clients – especially Chinese state-owned enterprises – and building relationships with Chinese financial regulators are in high demand, says Eunice Ng, director of talent acquisition at headhunters Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong.
“These senior candidates would find more opportunities at the global investment banks,” says Mullally. “But junior to mid-level people are more in demand at Singaporean, Malaysian and other Southeast Asian banks – and Japanese banks, to some extent – who are growing in China but don’t have enough connections there.”
There is demand on the buy-side, too. Equity sales people from Chinese banks are moving into distribution roles in asset management, says Linus Choi, an associate at search firm Global Sage in Hong Kong. “International asset managers and hedge funds are also interested in equity analysts from Chinese investment banks as there is growing demand for sector specialists in the Chinese market, especially in the consumer sector.”
Hedge fund CQS in Hong Kong has recently hired senior sales people from Chinese houses for fund-distribution roles, according to another headhunter, who asked not to be named.
Global firms in Hong Kong rarely make China-bank experience mandatory for new vacancies, say recruiters, but the front-office skills they are seeking are increasingly found within Chinese banks. “They want candidates who can adapt to both Chinese and Western cultures because have a mainland background, are educated in China and overseas, have connections in China, and are fluent in Mandarin and English,” says Scott Cheung, a managing consultant at recruitment firm PSD Group in Hong Kong.