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Hong Kong’s blockchain boom forces banks to look overseas for talent

The Hong Kong government’s recent move to encourage more blockchain professionals to relocate to the city comes amid growing alarm about local skill shortages. The Hong Kong finance sector urgently needs more blockchain specialists, in particular developers, to help fend off competition from Singapore and to ensure the talent pool is large enough to cope if banks start ramping up their blockchain hiring in the near future, say recruiters.

Late last month, the government included blockchain in its first ever ‘talent list’ highlighting specific professions needed most for Hong Kong’s economic development and potentially qualifying for a special immigration quota. The decision has been welcomed by tech recruiters and blockchain experts, who say Hong Kong is on the cusp of a blockchain hiring boom but is currently unprepared for it.

“There’s a local skills shortage, especially of developers who have direct blockchain experience as opposed to just the relevant programming skills,” says Warwick Pearmund, associate director of emerging technologies at Pure Search in Hong Kong. “Mid-to-senior leaders are hard to find as the tech hasn’t been around for long.”

Hong Kong also needs to import more blockchain talent to stay competitive with rival finance centre Singapore, whose financial regulator is encouraging the development of the technology via its Project Ubin payment-settlements programme. “Singapore and mainland China have already put a lot of effort into blockchain. The Hong Kong government is now giving local businesses easy access to global blockchain professionals, so HK won’t be left behind,” says Chi Zhang, cryptoassets technology lead at FinFabrik, a Hong Kong-based capital markets and wealth management fintech firm.

The global blockchain talent pool that Hong Kong wants to access is mainly located in the US, Europe, and mainland China, in particular Shanghai and Shenzhen, says Thomas Hardy, a strategic account manager at recruiters Randstad in Hong Kong and a former board advisor to the Hong Kong Digital Asset Investment Association. “Companies are competing across borders to hire blockchain developers,” he adds.

Many of the developer jobs in Hong Kong’s (finance-focused) blockchain sector are currently in startup companies such as crypto trading platforms BitMEX, Gatecoin and ANXPRO, and payments firms OK Link and BitSpark. “Hong Kong startup jobs are typically either crypto-trading or ICO related, because these are the areas that can make money for startups now,” says Zhang. “But in the future, the roles will be in fintech firms making more disruptive innovations, and working with big banks to help move their technology stacks onto blockchain.”

Blockchain jobs at banks

More blockchain jobs within large banks in Hong Kong are likely to open up within the next few years, say recruiters. HSBC, Standard Chartered, Bank of China, Bank of East Asia, ANZ, Hang Seng and DBS – working together under a Hong Kong Monetary Authority initiative – are this month launching a digitalised trade-finance platform using blockchain technology.

“Banks in Hong Kong will increasingly tap blockchain expertise either through these kind of partnerships, or via acquisition of fintech startups,” says Hardy from Randstad. “I expect future job opportunities for blockchain developers to be at major banks and large technology companies.”

But don’t expect to get a cryptocurrency job at a bank in Hong Kong anytime soon. “Banks aren’t willing to do anything related to crypto internally,” says Zhang from FinFabrik. “They are more into the private/consortium blockchain projects, such as R3’s Corda platform or HyperLedger. Cross-border payments, trade finance and supply-chain finance are the areas banks in Hong Kong are now doing blockchain pilot evaluations on because they can increase efficiency and reduce transaction frictions,” he adds.

No matter whether you’re applying to Stan Chart or a startup, however, getting a blockchain developer job in Hong Kong is far from straightforward. “A blockchain developer with a strong commercial acumen is one of the hardest roles to recruit for,” says Hardy. “Besides having the technical skills, you also need to collaborate with multiple teams across the firm to build an extensive and modular system that is both scalable and adaptable to meet a range of business requirements.”

As well as being full-stack engineers, blockchain professionals are typically all-round data scientists who are proficient in C++, C#, C, or Core Java as their primary language, says Hardy. “These developers should have good knowledge in back-end and front-end code engineering and extensive experience in manual and automated testing and web development,” he adds. “Employers typically look for developers who have worked with blockchain frameworks – such as Ethereum and Hyperledger – and have at least a thorough theoretical understanding of blockchain in decentralisation and smart-contract projects.”

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Image credit: matejmo, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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