Hong Kong investment bankers are becoming more interested in job opportunities across the border as global banks step up their mainland hiring and gain control of their Chinese joint ventures. But there’s a catch – the likes of UBS and JP Morgan are likely to target local talent first. You’ll have to be a top performer to land a relocation from Hong Kong to China.
UBS, JP Morgan and Nomura have recently received regulatory approval to take 51% stakes in their Chinese securities joint ventures as Beijing relaxes the foreign ownership laws that have long been a bugbear for big banks. Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse plan to take majority control of their JVs in the near future.
In the case of UBS, which in November became the first bank to win approval, this has already led to senior hiring. Its JV, UBS Securities China, has taken on five managing directors, including Shen Dehua, the former investment banking head of HSBC’s Qianhai JV, as vice chairman for Asia, and Eric Zhang, from a private equity arm of China Merchants Bank, as head of its Shanghai office, reports Bloomberg.
This may be just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of this year there could be 25% more investment banking jobs in China than there were in 2017, according to Kelly Services. “I expect more and more foreign banks will be looking to apply for majority control,” says Hubert Tam, managing partner of Hong Kong search firm Sirius Partners. “This will definitely open up more – and more attractive – job opportunities in China,” he adds.
Some Hong Kong bankers want in on the mainland action and are considering relocating, despite China’s higher rates of income tax and more limited product offerings. “I’m already working on various moves in which Hong Kong bankers are keen to take up China-based jobs,” says Tam.
Shanghai-based headhunter Jason Tan says the expansion of JV banks in China will “generate a new wave of interest from Hong Kong bankers”. “China remains a very active job market for bankers despite the cooling down of the economy,” he adds.
Matt Huang, a Hong Kong-based financial professional who previously worked in China, says the mainland is now becoming more appealing to foreign bankers, especially junior to mid-level ones who think a stint there will give their resumes a quick boost.
But just because Hong Kong bankers are suddenly more interested in Chinese vacancies at UBS, JPM and their JV rivals, doesn’t mean landing a job in China will be straightforward. Global banks in China are largely only interested in relocating Mandarin-speaking high-performers who’ve been serving mainland clients from Hong Kong, say recruiters.
About 80% of the new front-office jobs created as global banks expand will be filled by candidates who already live in China, says headhunter Tan. Hong Kong will provide some of the remaining talent, in particular people at SVP to MD level who are relocated because of their client networks and product knowledge. “But there will only be pockets of hiring from Hong Kong,” says Tan.
There’s also a potential mismatch between the skills of Hong Kong candidates and those needed by the JVs, says Stanley Soh, a Hong Kong-based regional director of financial services solutions in Asia. “HK-based bankers tend to focus on cross-border M&A and international listings, while China-based bankers are more knowledgeable about A-share listings and domestic M&A,” he adds.
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