Journalist, or analyst?
By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.
We all know how hot the job market is these days in the Chinese financial industry, and with almost every hirer facing the question of where to find enough smart people to fill those openings, some banks are trawling an alternative talent pool — financial journalists.
In fact, the media industry has been a talent source for fund houses and investment banks for some time, but mostly for public relations- or marketing-related roles.
Talk to a spokesperson for a big bank such as Citigroup or Morgan Stanley, and you shouldn’t be surprised to learn she or he once worked for a leading media organisation before moving to the so-called “dark side”.
More recently, some banks are starting to realise that journalist can handle more than PR. What about as economists or analysts to study monetary policy and capital markets for big global banks in China?
The head of China research at a British bank recently sent an email to his friends advising that the bank was looking for a China economist and researcher to join his fast-expanding team in Shanghai or Beijing. Besides a basic financial and economics-related educational background, the notice highlighted one condition that the ideal candidate would meet.
“We are looking for candidates with either a decent advanced (i.e. post-graduate) degree in economics and/or with a strong background in journalism/industry research in China. We view a journalist’s eye for a story and ability to work out how particular policies work in practice in China as strengths,” the hirer said in the note, which was widely distributed among financial journalists in China this week.
Separately, at almost the same time, the China research team leader at a big European investment bank also published a new job notice for China stock analysts in Beijing, and asked his colleagues to spread the word, especially among their financial media friends. Among the requirements, the hirer pointed out that the applicant should demonstrate excellent writing skills, especially for analytical articles.
As far as I know, not too many journalists have MBAs, which are often considered an entry ticket for a career in investment banking or asset management. For roles such as economist at a big bank, a PhD used to be a basic requirement, but in a developing market such as China, do people really want to make things a bit easier?
Given China’s immature market environment, the right information and fast access to key economic data are becoming more important for economists and analysts, whose reputations rely on the credibility of their forecasts and a sensitivity to market trends (ahead of their competitors).
Such work often relies on an extensive network of contacts in different industries and ministries across the vast nation.
Meanwhile, in China’s capital markets, rumours are often proved to be true. For example, about two weeks ahead of the release of official data early this month, the stock market in Shanghai was already full of talk and speculation that inflation in November would reach a new high of 5.1 percent on year.
Guess who is usually among the first to hear these rumours? Good financial journalists with strong ties with government sources.
Some industry watchers have observed that economists in China are becoming more like newsbreaking, investigative journalists. Remember Beijing’s surprise announcement of a 4 trillion yuan (about 586 billion U.S. dollars at that time) stimulus package in late 2008 to help maintain economic expansion amid the global financial crisis?
To some clients of a big U.S. bank, the announcement may not have been very surprising as they had learned of the plan from the bank’s economist, who had tapped his well-placed sources in Beijing for intelligence.
Perhaps, a good China economist can someday teach at Columbia Journalism School when he feels he earns enough money? By the same token, a financial journalist could also teach MBA students how to develop a source network in China.
George Chen is a Reuters editor and columnist based in Hong Kong.
Photo: A visitor walks by a modern painting shown at an art exhibition in Hong Kong on May 17, 2009. REUTERS/George Chen