Hong Kong is no panacea for panicked Chinese bankers

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Nervous mainland bankers warned against panicked move to Hong Kong

Don't panic

Anxious bankers in mainland China are seeking the security of a job in Hong Kong as China's stock market continues to tank. But relocating for this reason right now would be reckless and bankers should wait until the Hong Kong job market improves before trying a switch.

“Bankers are becoming nervous about the market and with the heavy government intervention, they don't know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” says Jason Tan, a partner at search firm Being & Associates in Shanghai. “This is making some of them, especially those who already have international credentials, more motivated to leave China. In the past few weeks we’ve had close to 25 enquiries about moving, many have asked about Hong Kong. And we expect more calls.”

But although some analysts have highlighted the chaos across the border to reinforce Hong Kong’s credentials as a well-regulated financial centre, attempting a panicked relocation from the mainland to Hong Kong is inadvisable.

“Anyone making a longer-term decision based on a short term sell-off is making a mistake whether they are trading shares or changing careers,” says Brett McGonegal, CEO of Hong Kong investment firm Reorient Group. “This move in the stock market will prove to be just that – a move. I would advise changing location based on a well thought-out career plan.”

The job market for Chinese bankers in Hong Kong isn’t buoyant right now thanks to the China downturn and the usual seasonal fall in second-half vacancies. But experts suggest this is just a blip – the overall trend is that mainland bankers are becoming more in demand in Hong Kong. Those who want to move are advised to wait until the first quarter of next year when the current volatility may have died down and more vacancies will have opened up after banks pay bonuses.

Banking jobs in Hong Kong for those willing to wait

“There’s a healthy appetite for PRC bankers in Hong Kong across the board, in particular those with overseas M&A and ECM experience,” says McGonegal. “The global banks have drastically shifted headcount in HK away from HK-born to PRC-born professionals.”

There will also be an uptick in demand for mainland salespeople in Hong Kong, says Howhow Zhang, director of financial services consultancy Z-Ben Advisors in Shanghai. “Take an institutional salesperson who used to sell A-share products to their clients in China – it might make sense for them to relocate to Hong Kong and start selling offshore products to the same client base.”

Demand for mainland bankers in Hong Kong is strongest at the mid to senior level, says John Mullally, director of financial services at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong. “Experienced people who can bring a book of clients will be most sought after, as well as M&A dealmakers.”

A Chinese client base is typically not enough for banks in Hong Kong, however – you also need to have previously worked in a major global financial centre. “A Chinese banker with China-only experience will find their career options in Hong Kong more limited, but a Chinese banker with international work experience is welcome in Hong Kong and anywhere in the world,” says Tan from Being Associates.

Senior mainland bankers who move to Hong Kong or to other APAC markets like Singapore and Australia aren’t just motivated by work opportunities. “They want a better life for their family – education and healthcare are factors,” says Tan.

But Hong Kong isn’t for everyone

While the amount of PRC bankers wanting to shift to Hong Kong is growing, the long-term career prospects of those who remain on the mainland shouldn’t be greatly diminished by the current stock market roller-coaster.

“The short-term market conditions are a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things,” says William Barkshire, managing director of Hong Kong capital-markets consultancy Agora Partners and a former COO of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange. “Stock Connect has demonstrated the strong symbiotic relationship between Hong Kong and China. As such, employment prospects [in China] will continue to go from strength to strength in both the cash and derivatives markets,” adds Barkshire.

Zhang from Z-Ben Advisors adds: “While some Chinese traders and bankers always want more foreign exposure, they also know their client powerbase is in China. And many bankers also want stay close to regulators, who are based in Beijing.”

“We're in a period of uncertainty right now in the job market,” says Alistair Ramsbottom, managing director of Shanghai search firm The Blacklock Group. “But while there's short-term uncertainty, I think longer term things should be fine for bankers here.”

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