Why it’s much harder for expat bankers to land a Hong Kong job

Bloomberg has reported that more and more, even experienced expat bankers are struggling to find and keep jobs in Hong Kong if they don’t speak Mandarin. The same goes for those without a mastery of China’s business culture or connections across the border.

One banking recruiter was quoted by Bloomberg saying that as recently as 2010, expatriates from Britain and the rest of Europe, plus those from the U.S. and Australia, landed 40% of his finance job placements. Today, that figure is just 15%.

At Citigroup, Chinese students will account for the majority of university graduates the firm intends to hire full time in Hong Kong next year while for the past two years, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has hired more than 40% of its full-time graduates and interns for operations in the city from local universities (a number the bank expects to increase as it ramps up business in the region).

Meanwhile, private banks are looking for China-skilled staff in order to capture a slice of the country’s burgeoning wealth. For example: Bank of Singapore Ltd, a unit of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp, has hired 20 Mandarin-speaking relationship managers in Hong Kong this year.

Most global banks have also tried to bring in Chinese power brokers and many of these professionals are not only bilingual, they are bicultural as they are products of elite Western universities and can move seamlessly between China and the global Wall Street. These power brokers also bring deep connections to China’s leadership and state-owned enterprises.

Nevertheless, divisional and regional leadership roles in Hong Kong tend to still be held mostly by expatriates. But with a new generation of Chinese professionals emerging with language skills, top degrees and good connections now filling the lower ranks, it’s only a matter of time before they start replacing expats in senior leadership roles.

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