Under the terms of China's accession to the WTO, the mainland's banking sector will be fully open to foreign institutions by December 2006. This will undoubtedly provide an excellent opportunity for overseas banks to extend their branch networks, introduce new products and services, and strengthen their client base. In doing so, however, they will face the challenge of recruiting sufficient quality staff and will have to contend with increasing competition for the same pool of talent from Chinese banks which are undertaking reforms and looking to expand into international markets.
Carrie Leung, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers, is familiar with the problem. She says there is a similar demand for qualified bankers with relevant experience in Hong Kong and this is partly a result of the freeze on the increase of headcount, which started in 2003. Business has grown since then, but headcounts have not necessarily kept pace.
According to Ms Leung, three types of banking professionals are particularly sought after. "The first is customer relationship managers for both retail and corporate banking," she says, adding that this was because so many banks had branched out into wealth management. Their basic rationale is that by diversifying into more fee-based activities, they can lessen their reliance on income from loans and other more volatile revenue streams. Nevertheless, any organisation providing financial planning services requires a significant number of trained personnel to manage and develop the business.
Experts in risk management and compliance are also in demand. Ms Leung points out that, as the banking industry has become more sophisticated, it has been necessary to implement tougher and more complex risk management systems. Of course, these are all linked to compliance functions to ensure that all company policies and external regulations are correctly observed. "For example, money laundering has been a hot topic," she says. "Bankers, especially those involved in securities trading and compliance, should know how these activities operate and how to protect their organisations."
The third category with many vacancies is treasury, in which there are openings for people with knowledge of foreign exchange trading, money markets and derivatives.
Ms Leung says candidates with a couple of years' experience will have a definite advantage when applying for junior positions in wealth management or treasury operations, but that most banks are also willing to consider fresh graduates.
For more senior posts, the relevant professional qualifications are essential. This usually means having a BA or even an MA in a business-related discipline, a licence from the Securities and Futures Commission, and qualifications as an Associate of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (AHKIB) or as a Certified Personal Financial Planner (CPFP), which is offered by the institute.
"Nowadays, even some university students obtain the licences required by the industry," notes Ms Leung. "It certainly proves their commitment and, if they join a bank, it will enhance their initial productivity and give them a good head start."
Understandably, the preferred entry point for recent graduates who plan a career in banking and finance is as a management trainee. Such positions offer wide exposure to every aspect of a bank's operations before giving recruits the chance to develop expertise in a specialist area. However, as major banks may only hire 10 to 20 management trainees each year, candidates who miss out can always consider starting instead in a frontline position in retail or corporate banking.
On the retail side, it's important to be outgoing and adaptable to deal with people from all walks of life. On the corporate side, employers look for maturity, analytical ability and a talent for building long-term relationships with key customers.
In either case, the necessary personal characteristics include being determined and having strong communications skills and a desire to keep learning. Ms Leung adds that, in an industry which is changing more rapidly than ever, a global perspective is crucial, but this is not often evident among students in Hong Kong.
With mainland banks going through a period of reform as they bring their practices more into line with international standards, they will continue to turn to professionals in Hong Kong for knowledge and experience. This is always their first choice for reasons of geographical and cultural proximity, Ms Leung says.
Bankers who choose to accept job offers on the mainland usually do so because they see better career prospects and the chance to work in a much larger scale of operations. Some are motivated by an interest in training their counterparts by transferring their skills and sharing their experience. Others whose expertise is especially in demand may be tempted by the offer of even better compensation and benefits than in Hong Kong.
"The key thing, though, is to remember that there will be new challenges to face and the need to learn about a different banking system and regulatory environment," Ms Leung says.
Path of reform
- The mainland's banking reforms are creating many new openings
- Hong Kong banks are also actively hiring in the areas
of customer service, wealth management, risk and compliance,
and treasury operations
- Management trainee schemes and frontline positions offer
good entry points into the industry
- Candidates must have or expect to obtain the relevant
licences and professional qualifications