All bulge bracket banks have strong presence in Hong Kong. They still run massive business there. Yet the global banks no longer run the show. Local Chinese and Hong Kong firms are quickly catching up. Here are some of the reasons why you should work for a local bank in HK.
1. Work life balance
It's no secret that bulge bracket banks work their bankers extremely hard, especially junior ones. Bankers in Hong Kong are no exception. But it's even harder in HK because of the time difference. There are numerous calls or video conferences at night with colleagues in Europe. Or, even worse, such calls could be in the early hours in the morning with US-based colleagues.
But it's not like that with Chinese banks. Although Chinese banks have the ambition emulate their global peers, few of them have actually achieved it. Most still have all their businesses in HK and Mainland China. No more time difference, so no more night calls. Plus Chinese banks generally act in a more civilised manner - 80-100 hour weeks are rarely heard of.
Since the financial crisis, banks around the world have been placed under increasing scrutiny by regulators.
Things are different in the Greater China region. China has a hugely different banking and capital markets system, which is, at the moment, only partially connected into the global system. That explains why its banking system didn't suffer as severely as that in the West. Therefore, regulation and compliance requirements, although also tightened up, still trail the West. This gives financial professionals a certain degree of flexibility.
3. Better career prospects
This is almost the most cited reason for joining a local firm in HK, especially since global banks have been in obvious retreat since the start of this year. Given the huge size of the Chinese economy and the fact that it's still growing (albeit slower than before), as well as capital markets that are expected to open up further to international investments, Chinese banks in HK are expanding fast.
"The Chinese securities firms and banks here are hiring quite aggressively right now," says Duncan Kennedy, head of Hong Kong and China at the search firm Selby Jennings.
For those who have already been forced to leave global banks in HK, Chinese banks certainly provide a viable alternative.
4. Job security
The sheer number of jobs available with Chinese banks means that employees are relatively secure. But it's also to do with the traditional Chinese way, in which a certain degree of humanity and affection is expected to be shown towards employees. It's considered as an upside by local firms. "For those who come from international banks, what we can offer is job security, which is important to them," proudly declares a HR director of a local Hong Kong firm.
5. Changing your career direction
Some local firms think they are very open-minded about candidates' shifting career path. For example, sales people will be given opportunity to join the investment team to become a client portfolio manager, or a product specialist. According to them, such career shifting is seen less in global banks, so "it's really an attraction for a candidate from international banks," says another HR manager of a local Hong Kong firm.
6. They're already home
Unlike global banks, Chinese banks are headquartered in China, and Hong Kong firms in Hong Kong. In both cases, local firms are still operating from their base camps. At a time when global banks are retreating from Hong Kong to their home markets this year, local firms literally have nowhere to "retreat" to. This certainly helps with their employment stability. If it's not easy to retreat, then it's less likely to cut as dramatically as global banks.
7. China focus
This is particularly helpful to Chinese bankers with overseas study or work experience. A substantial part of local firms' clientele are Chinese. The fact that most of them speak Mandarin and do business in a typical Chinese way makes it quite hard for a foreigner without any Chinese exposure to deal with such clients. So this is where Chinese bankers with overseas experience could fit in. The more local firms set foot in Hong Kong, the more job opportunities for these Chinese professionals.