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The Hong Kong finance jobs where you must speak Mandarin

Hong Kong’s finance sector is supported by Mandarin-speaking talent across almost all job functions, according to eFinancialCareers data.

We looked at 19 job sectors on our CV database and worked out the proportion of Hong Kong-based finance professionals in each one who state that they speak Mandarin at either ‘native’ or ‘fluent’ level. The results are shown in the table below, which also breaks out the separate native (mostly people who speak Mandarin as a first language) and fluent (those who know it well as an additional language) percentages.

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, 78% of Hong Kong-based M&A professionals on our database are at least fluent in Mandarin. Private equity tops our table, reflecting the importance of mainland investments to the success of Hong Kong-based PE firms.

The table also shows that several jobs – including capital markets and research – have a native-Mandarin percentage of above 40%. This may suggest that a high proportion of mainland Chinese work in these sectors, as they are more likely to be native Mandarin speakers than local Hongkongers are. Banks in Hong Kong need researchers to decipher data from mainland companies, while capital markets bankers are working on IPOs for the Chinese firms that are now choosing Hong Kong over the US for their listings.

“Banks in Hong Kong are still fairly dependent on mainland talent because the typical requirement for native mandarin speaking professionals hasn’t changed,” says Chris Wong, head of Selby Jennings China. “IBD functions need Chinese talent, especially given the recent competition between the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges over the increasing number of future IPOs and secondary listings from Chinese companies,” he adds.

The high Mandarin percentages for Hong Kong finance jobs are also partly explained by global banks having increased their hiring of Chinese graduates into their analyst programmes over the past few years. The Hong Kong growth of Chinese investment banks, where Mandarin is spoken internally, has also contributed to the Mandarin numbers.

As we reported last week, however, there are doubts over Hong Kong’s ability to retain its critical mainland financial workforce because of Beijing’s plans to tax citizens’ global incomes. Some Chinese bankers in Hong Kong have recently been contacting recruiters about moving home as they cannot afford to pay high mainland tax while living in a city as expensive as Hong Kong. So far there has not been an exodus of Chinese talent, and mainlanders who have lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years could potentially avoid paying tax back home by becoming permanent residents in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong’s expanding private banking sector, 71% of people on our database are at least fluent in Mandarin. The industry is already focused on serving Chinese clients, a trend that is likely to continue under the Wealth Connect programme, which lets Hong Kong private bankers serve clients across southern China’s Greater Bay Area.

Unsurprisingly, operations jobs – which demand comparatively little client interaction – sit toward the bottom of our table. Banks in Hong Kong employ technology staff from around the world – 42% of them know Mandarin well, but only 11% are native speakers, according to our CV database.

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager
  • Ei
    17 July 2018

    Recruiter of a leading media house which is also a data service provider asked me to go back to my own country if I cannot speak Mandarin in Hong Kong, though I graduated locally there. Things are changing. Even if a job doesn't require Mandarin, still preference is given as the existing employees speak in Mandarin in the office environment.

  • re
    16 November 2016

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

  • Fu
    22 March 2016

    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)

  • En
    9 April 2015

    You hit the nail on the head

  • an
    3 April 2015

    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.

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