Is it possible to move from bank to bank every 18 months, while still scoring hefty pay hikes and not ruining your resume? If you work in China, the answer is yes.
To the delight of agency recruiters and the annoyance of line managers, Chinese finance professionals are notorious job hoppers. Here are some reasons why many bankers in China just can’t stay still.
To tackle an endemic skill shortage in China, banks are luring candidates with large pay raises – 25% is on the low side. “The rapid growth of the finance industry has created a lot of career opportunities and encouraged frequent job changing,” said Fabrice Isnard, associate director, banking & financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Shanghai.
“Cultural reasons are probably behind most Chinese job hopping,” said Vivian Lin Thurston, the president of the Chinese Finance Association of America (CFAA). “The conforming mentality in Chinese society, for example, tends to make it a trend – if everyone is changing jobs frequently, you may not seem so desirable or may be deemed ‘dumb’ if you don’t,” she added.
Those who entered the workforce in the past 10 years often think staying with one company is “old fashioned and dull,” Lin Thurston said. The younger generation have grown their careers as China has liberalised its finance sector, and they are making a conscious effort to break away from the job-for-life mentality of their parents.
Talking openly about your salary isn't taboo for young Chinese bankers. And feeling underpaid relative to your peers is a strong motivator to join another bank, said Alistair Ramsbottom, managing director of Shanghai search firm The Blacklock Group. “Candidates who have changed jobs frequently have in some cases seen their pay rise dramatically relative to those who have stayed put,” he added.
For many bankers, the extra cash that a new job can bring is a necessity, not a luxury. “Due to high living expenses in Shanghai and Beijing, where most young professionals work, changing jobs is all about getting a more viable remuneration package,” said Flora Shi, a senior consultant at recruitment agency Morgan McKinley in Shanghai.
Chinese bankers tend not to be as financially bound to their current employers as their counterparts in the West are. “There are relatively low opportunity costs for changing jobs in China – low deferred income, and low or zero compensation tied with the company's shares,” said Lin Thurston.
Chinese parents often use “guanxi”, personal relationships, to get their kids jobs at state-owned Chinese banks, said Stephen He, senior consultant, banking & finance, at recruitment firm Kelly Services. “But after a few years, or even months, of service these young professionals will usually get tired of the routine and bureaucracy at these organisations – thus leading to job hopping,” he added.
Banks in China are not renowned for their career-development and training opportunities, Lin Thurston from the CFAA said. Moving companies is often the best option if you want to learn new skills, added Sean Upton-McLaughlin, a Shanghai-based consultant at learnchinesebusiness.com.
“Because the education system generally discourages innovative thinking, and because it’s a recruiter-rich job market, many employees in China lack career planning skills,” Upton-McLaughlin said. Some people are thus easily tempted into accepting new job offers even before they’ve clocked up a decent tenure at their current company.
Family relationships can exert a large influence on Chinese employees’ career decisions, Upton-McLaughlin said. “With China’s economic rise, many young professionals always need to increase their earning power, whether to support ageing parents, prepare for an expensive wedding, or support a wife and child in another city.”