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Is HSBC in Hong Kong just too nice a place to work?

“I love working for HSBC in Hong Kong. But sometimes I think the bank might be too nice”

On the face of it, I’ve had a textbook start to my investment banking career: finance degree from major US university completed; internships in the bag; job offer from global bank accepted; traineeship kicked off a few months ago.

But my path to my current job, as a first-year analyst in the global banking and markets team at HSBC in Hong Kong, hasn’t been entirely straightforward. I loved (no exaggeration) my internship at HSBC – the work, the people, the firm – but I still hesitated (a lot) before accepting the bank’s offer of full-time work. And it was precisely because I enjoyed the internship so much that I wasn’t sure I wanted a job at HSBC. Let me explain...

Even as an intern, it soon became clear to me that the culture at HSBC is nicer, softer and less pushy than at most other investment banks in Hong Kong, especially the US ones.

Most HSBC summer interns in my cohort finished before midnight, even on busy days. I was part of a WeChat group for interns across banks in Hong Kong that year, so I know for a fact that my counterparts at J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley, for example, weren’t clocking off until 2am or 3am. The working hours are generally better at HSBC across all levels, not just for interns.

Here’s an example of what I mean by HSBC being ‘nice’. Unusually, one of my fellow interns once worked until 6am and sent an email to the team shortly before he logged off. When he came back to the office a few hours later, concerned colleagues (who’d seen the time on his email) asked why he’d worked so late, a senior manager bought him a coffee, and the team head called him aside and said that he must tell him if he ever felt overwhelmed by work again.

I don’t think you’d get such a sympathetic response at a lot of other banks, especially for a guy who was only an intern. As an intern myself, I found the senior managers were very approachable; it was clear that HSBC’s investment bank had a comparatively non-hierarchical culture.

But all the niceness I experienced as an intern was a double-edged sword for me when I had to decide whether to accept a permanent job offer from the firm.

I was very worried that it could be too much of a culture shock if I ever wanted to join another large investment bank. Could I cut it in the harsher environment of a Goldman Sachs after three or four years at HSBC? Equally, if I were competing with juniors from J.P. Morgan for a private equity job in the future, would I be disadvantaged coming from HSBC? Would I have the same hard-nosed attitude?

I wasn’t alone in having these concerns. Most of my fellow interns really enjoyed their summers at HSBC, but were worried that the bank was too much of a soft touch. So why did I join as an analyst? It was partly because I already had a return offer from HSBC and if I rejected it, I’d have to apply from scratch to other banks – I might have ended up without a job.

I also concluded that while HSBC still doesn’t have the global brand name of a Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley or J.P. Morgan, it is still a reasonable career option here in Asia. HSBC's big strategy overhaul last month was all about Asia.

Before making up my mind, I spent a lot of time looking at market league tables in Asia for the past five years, and I saw that HSBC had done a lot of meaningful deals. HSBC’s reasonable reputation in IBD and the risk of turning down the offer ultimately outweighed my worries about its softer culture.

I’m now hoping I can get the best of both worlds in my career. I’m certainly working at a bank I admire, and I’m hoping I can compete in the job market when I want to move on.

Abi Gwok (not her real name) is a first-year analyst at HSBC in Hong Kong.

Photo by Ryan McManimie on Unsplash

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AUTHORAbi Gwok Insider Comment
  • be
    19 March 2018

    I suspect that efc has hired by some party to make such propaganda. Looking at how much insider information efc got about HSBC, it would be really surprising if these are not written by creative writers at efc or the HR/Marketing team at HSBC.

    More often than not, efc HK does not really cover HK financial stuff and is fluently flooded with movements in NY/London (in which people in HK don't really care), except for HSBC where most of us would really be amazed by the vast amount of insider information related to lateral movements to HSBC.

    The people movement seem to focus on two angles. Either highlighting the effort of aggressive expansion and ambition through recruitment of MDs (who aren't even rainmakers at their old firm) or movement of juniors (and to be honest, nobody actually cares if a guy from commercial banking focusing on large corporate clients is moving to private banking). I bet many readers actually wish efc can stop this.

    To all prospective job seekers, please think twice and apply critical thinking when reading propaganda on any career website. It must tell something if you see so much propaganda.

    Let me recap the recent efc articles here:
    "I hesitated before joining HSBC in Hong Kong. It's just too nice and too soft"
    Nine major power players who could get you a job at HSBC in Asia
    Nine hot jobs at HSBC in Asia as the region dominates its profits
    "I was head of APAC tech IBD at HSBC. I've just joined a Tencent-backed website"
    HSBC head of APAC digital products: here's who I want to hire
    "I left HSBC for a Chinese bank in Hong Kong. Here's what shocked me most"
    A Morgan Stanley Asia sales head has resurfaced at HSBC
    HSBC has just recruited a Goldman MD for a leading APAC role
    HSBC Hong Kong rehires corporate banker after a year and makes him a private banker
    Was Matthew Westerman simply too much for HSBC?
    Here's how much you earn at HSBC's investment bank vs. Goldman Sachs and others
    HSBC's strategy of squeezing all but its special MDs is paying off

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