The season of hiring in China
By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.
As we enter the last few weeks of 2010, we’re gladdened to hear news of increased hiring in Asia, in particular in China – suggesting a promising business outlook for the coming year. Otherwise, why bother hiring?
On November 24, Barclays Wealth, a unit of British banking giant Barclays, outlined an ambitious expansion plan to double the number of private bankers in Asia and quadruple its assets under management in the region over the next four years. In addition, Barclays is going to set up a booking center in Hong Kong to get even closer to its top-end China clients.
This is not Barclays’ first attempt to grab talent from rivals this year. Its aggressive hiring plan has already raised tensions with Morgan Stanley in the equities, foreign exchange trading and investment banking arenas.
Just a few months ago, Barclays successfully lobbied a number of China-focused M&A bankers in Asia to defect from Morgan Stanley. Such moves, especially for a group of people rather than one or two over a few months, caused quite a buzz in Hong Kong’s financial community at the time. This time, Barclays wants to snag more private banking and asset management professionals. Who should be watching out?
In Asia, smaller banks such as Standard Chartered and DBS Group are furiously expanding, with more wealth likely to be generated in the region powered by the economies of China, India and Indonesia.
Even market leader HSBC is trying hard to expand its private banking team to further consolidate its position in Asia.
Have you seen the hiring ads posted all over Hong Kong? These banks are usually believed to offer less competitive compensation than rivals such as Barclays and Goldman Sachs, which are known for more generous payrolls, but also for longer working hours and higher pressure in the office.
No wonder HSBC just a few weeks ago decided to give senior staff in Asia a huge incentive boost, raising salaries by as much as double. At the end of the day it’s up to you, Mr. or Ms. Talent — what do you really want? More money? Or a more comfortable working environment? Remember the old saying: you cannot have your cake and eat it too.
And how can we forget Citibank, once the world’s largest financial services provider? The U.S. banking giant is now apparently paying more attention to the fast growing rich Chinese customers and bigger Chinese companies. The bank wants to double personnel in China to 10,000 over three years, according to a report by Japan’s business daily Nikkei on November 25.
When the news about Citibank’s hiring plan in China came out, Chinese netizens showed some skepticism. They asked online if Citibank can afford competitive compensation in China similar to what they offer Citi staff in the West. To work for a foreign bank in China is no longer something a young graduate necessarily covets ahead of other opportunities. In terms of payroll, you should not be surprised to see a junior clerk at Bank of China in Shanghai earning roughly 5,000 yuan (750 U.S. dollar) per month, even more than what his peer can get at Standard Chartered in the country’s financial hub.
On the other hand, it’s certainly a good thing to see the financial world recovering. Nobody wants to see another market panic in 2011. Let’s just hope the pace of expansion is reasonable.
Higher salaries means banks attract better people and can offer better quality service, right? Oops! To be honest, I haven’t received a call from my HSBC account manager for almost a year, and I only learned from the online banking system that my account manager has changed twice in the past six months.
Of course, I’m just one of many among its small clients in Hong Kong.
George Chen is a Reuters editor and columnist based in Hong Kong.
Photo: The HSBC headquarters is reflected in a commercial building in Hong Kong January 18, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip