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Life at a Chinese bank in Hong Kong: “I don’t do deals; I write boring business plans”

Chinese bank Hong Kong

Chinese banks have been hiring people laid off by global firms in Hong Kong this year. But if you’re thinking of moving to a mainland player, don’t except an easy transition – working hours are tough as dealmaking increases, and the bureaucracy can be stifling.

Chinese banks have been undercutting Western rivals to win more business from expansionist local companies. CITIC Securities and China Securities were the top-two firms for ex-Japan Asia Pacific investment banking revenue in the first nine months of this year, according to Dealogic.

International banks – most recently Goldman Sachs and BAML – have reacted by cutting front-office jobs in Hong Kong, creating a new talent pool for Chinese banks to hire from in the city. As we reported last month, almost 20% of Hong Kong employees of PRC banks have experience at international firms – and this number now looks likely to grow.

However, although in the past joining a Chinese bank in Hong Kong typically meant a drop in hours, their bankers are now working overtime on dry ‘request for proposals’ (RFP) – bidding documents to land new mainland clients.

“Competition is fierce. The biggest difference working for a Chinese bank is that instead of working away at existing deals, most of our nights are spent on preparing business development plans and RFPs,” says a vice president at China Everbright Securities in Hong Kong. “When it comes to an RFP, all plans are cancelled.”

And if you join a Chinese bank in Hong Kong, you will also have to deal with a corporate culture that is entirely different from a Western one.

“Organisational structures tend to be more hierarchical, and operational systems may not be as advanced as at their global counterparts, which can increase lead times in the decision-making process,” says a senior associate at BOCOM in Hong Kong. “But that leaves room to improve them too.”

Chinese banks also have less diverse teams, say the insiders we spoke with. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of bankers hail from the mainland or Hong Kong – staff from other markets are thin on the ground.

The changes you will encounter if you join a Chinese bank in Hong Kong aren’t all negative, however.

“The decision-making process can feel slow at times, but there’s an entrepreneurial spirit in that the roles are much less pigeonholed,” says a director who moved to a Chinese bank after Barclays’ cull of Asian employees earlier this year.

And while you probably won’t be earning as much base pay as you did at an international firm, Chinese banks have recently made their bonuses more performance based.

“With fewer capital restraints and their pursuit of growth, total remuneration packages can be better than at Western banks,” says the former Barclays banker.

Yet the culture at Chinese firms is less overtly money-driven – the bankers say most of their colleagues’ career decisions are more motivated by job stability.

Image credit: DragonImages, Getty

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