Credit risk remains one of the most stable and sought-after banking jobs in Hong Kong, but this year banks in the city are determined to hire more candidates with Mandarin-language skills into credit-risk roles. The language requirement is reducing the size of the talent pool and forcing banks to train up Mandarin-speaking staff from other departments.
“Credit-risk hiring is definitely busier than last year,” says Amy Ho, director of banking and financial services at recruiters Ambition in Hong Kong. “We have seen an increased workflow in corporate banking, retail banking and wealth management. When there's a rise in banks’ business activities, there's bound to be a requirement to increase headcount in credit risk."
As corporate banks in Hong Kong look to hire more relationship managers to expand their market share across Greater China – for example within the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector – they need more risk experts to examine the credit worthiness of their new clients.
Recruitment in credit risk in Hong Kong is, predictably, dominated by global firms with a corporate-banking focus – Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered. But Chinese and Hong Kong banks are increasingly competing for the same people, especially for junior-level credit-risk analysts, according to Ho.
Strong as it may be, the demand for credit-risk talent in Asia, hasn’t created the “huge spikes in hiring” that have taken place for compliance and operational risk jobs in Asia this year, says Chris Jackson, associate director of risk at Pure Search in Hong Kong. “Credit-risk candidates have been consistently sought after in Hong Kong not just this year, but for the past 18 months,” he adds.
Yet banks in Hong Kong are now finding it more difficult than ever to hire in credit risk. Part of the problem, says Ho, is that candidates in this field are typically more “stable” than those from other banking professions. “There isn’t a big talent shortage but there is a lack of ‘active’ job seekers in credit risk in Hong Kong – a lack of quality candidates who would actually consider moving jobs.”
Adding to banks' hiring challenges is the rapidly emerging need for credit-risk candidates in Hong Kong to know Mandarin in order to properly assess a growing volume of transactions from mainland China.
Between 70% and 80% of credit-risk jobs in Hong Kong now require candidates who both read and speak Chinese, according to Jackson from Pure Search. “Being about to talk the language of your clients is increasingly important, but of course this limits the size of the talent pool in credit risk,” he says.
“This year I have not seen many banks in Hong Kong willing to hire overseas candidates in credit risk, because they don’t have Chinese writing and reading skills,” adds Ho from Ambition.
As is also the case in operational risk, banks are prepared to be flexible in their search for bi-lingual candidates. Ho has seen corporate banking relationship managers “with strong analytical skills” move into credit-risk jobs within the same bank. “RMs can add value in risk jobs because they bring an empathy and understanding of the business case behind a particular transaction," adds Jackson. "And risk can be an appealing, stable career for RMs growing tired of P&L pressures in the front office.”
For junior credit-risk analysis jobs, Ho says banks in Hong Kong will also consider qualified accountants from the Big Four.
The more senior the role in credit risk, however, the more likely banks are to demand sector-specific experience. “A bank would not usually hire someone who covered SME-banking credit into a role which covers multinationals or large corporates,” explains Ho.