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The Hong Kong finance jobs where you must speak Mandarin


Mandarin is fast becoming a lingua franca in Hong Kong’s finance sector. Candidates who can only speak English and/or Cantonese are being frozen out of the job market.

But in which functions within financial services is Mandarin most sought after?

To find out, we looked at 17 key job sector categories on the eFinancialCareers CV database and worked out the proportion of candidates in each one who are fluent in Mandarin. The results are in the table below.

You are increasingly unlikely to get a client-facing finance job in Hong Kong unless you know Mandarin. For example, as investment bankers focus on helping expansionist mainland companies make overseas acquisitions, 73% of Hong Kong-based M&A professionals on our database are fluent in Mandarin.

Junior IBD analysts we spoke with previously at global banks in Hong Kong anecdotally put the percentage of Mandarin speakers among new graduate intakes at up to 80%. They say mainlanders are being recruited at the expense of Cantonese-speaking Hongkongers.

The growth of Chinese investment banks in Hong Kong has also contributed to high (more than 60%) Mandarin percentages in front-office functions such as M&A, capital markets and FX. In these firms – which are now capturing the lion’s share of the Asian investment banking wallet – Mandarin is spoken internally, not just when dealing with customers in China.

At 68%, the Mandarin ratio in equities doesn’t bode well for Western salespeople and traders who have been laid off following sweeping equities job cuts at banks such as Barclays, Standard Chartered and (in 2017) Credit Suisse.

The percentages are similarly high in non-IB jobs requiring regular contact with Chinese clients. Private equity tops our table at 78%, while corporate banking and asset management chart at 68% and 67% respectively.

After recent influxes of Chinese accountants into Hong Kong, the proportion of fluent-Mandarin accounting and finance resumes stands at 66% on our database.

Hong Kong’s private banking sector is partly, but not exclusively, focused on serving Chinese clients – and its 60% Mandarin mark reflects this.

Risk and compliance come in at 60% and 57% respectively. Continued skill shortages in those function mean banks can’t afford to be too picky about language requirements.

Unsurprisingly, operations and technology jobs – which demand comparatively little client interaction – bring up the rear of our table. Banks in Hong Kong employ technology staff from around the world – only 39% of them are fluent in Mandarin, according to our CV database.

Image credit: asafta, Getty

Comments (4)

  1. In reality, there are very few jobs which really require Mandarin in Hong Kong. I’d make the following points:
    i) Recruiters in Hong Kong are poor at selling employees to employers. Therefore employers often don’t fully understand the depth of candidates in the market who possess skills other than Mandarin.
    ii) HR often don’t understand the job they’re recruiting for. So if a job says “Mandarin preferred” HR will use this as part of a box ticking exercise and disregard other candidates who are well suited for the job, even though Mandarin isn’t really necessary.
    iii) Mandarin is rarely spoken in international banks in Hong Kong, in fact many local candidates want to practice their English at work.
    iv) The “requirement” for Mandarin is often code for employers wanting to employ ethnic Chinese candidates, particularly in local banks. In reality, not having Mandarin will not impede ability to do the job, but may impede opportunity.

  2. You hit the nail on the head

  3. The previous comments ring true and I’ve observed similar things in other countries where I’ve worked in banking.
    Doesn’t, however, obviate the assertion that you’re going to be at a disadvantage if you don’t speak Putonghua.
    I’d suggest learning if you’re serious about wanting the job
    I’ve learned some. I’m rubbish at it but at least it demonstrates that you’re serious about committing yourself to working in the HK market which is probably what really worries them.
    I’ve been told by quite a few recruiters that they don’t like dealing with overseas candidates because many times they even get offered the job and then turn it down because “their wife wouldn’t be able to settle there” or they “can’t find a good school” (on the internet)

  4. You must be very fluent in Mandarin if you want a client-facing finance job in Hong Kong.

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