Bank of China

Human capital in demand

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am

AS CHINA OPENS its doors to foreign banks to fulfil its World Trade Organisation obligations, employment prospects on the mainland for those with proven experience in the banking and financial services sector are brighter than ever.

That is the conclusion of industry insiders, with several foreign banks having already won regulatory approval to offer limited yuan services to mainland residents.

'There's going to be growing pressure for getting the right human capital to run foreign financial institutions in China,' said Murray Sargant, managing director of Misys treasury and capital markets in the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Sargant is a Hong Kong-based specialist in applying technology in the banking environment with more than 20 years of experience. He said salaries had been rising for some time in line with the field opening wider.

'You'll see great demand for Mandarin speakers in the retail arena and for those with treasury-based knowledge,' he said.

In mid-December last year the South China Morning Post reported that three Singaporean banks - DBS Bank, United Overseas Bank and OCBC Bank - were trying to incorporate on the mainland after winning the right to offer limited yuan services. Bank officials would open branches on the mainland and were keen to invest in Chinese banks.

This followed news that HSBC, Standard Chartered and Citigroup - along with Hong Kong counterparts Hang Seng Bank and Bank of East Asia - said the China Banking and Regulatory Commission (CBRC) had given them the green light to accept yuan deposits before the institutions were officially incorporated there.

Mainland government regulators have been providing details on rules for incorporation there in bits and pieces, encouraging some foreign banks to wait before submitting their applications after more details became available. This follows the mainland's three- to five-year 'transitional period' for certain sectors to prepare for outside competition, during which time the country set about fulfilling the WTO's criteria by amending and drafting thousands of new laws and regulations.

The mainland has hastened steps to reform its banking sector and three of the country's four major state-owned commercial banks have listed at home and abroad since 2005, raising billions of US dollars in capital and providing a global reach.

Dirk Chanmueller, vice-president and financial services leader of Capgemini Greater China, said as the picture cleared all facets of the hiring landscape would be open.

'There's no doubt about it - people will perceive these foreign banks as very attractive employers,' said Mr Chanmueller, whose office is in Shanghai.

'We can assume there will be tough competition for talent. This is especially true in the banking industry and consulting.' Foreign banks will target corporations and high-end customers, so highly talented people are vital for this to be successful.

Mr Chanmueller said China was home to an estimated 320,000 US dollar millionaires, and there would be a need for about 5,000 qualified wealth managers, or about one for every 60 clients.

'That's a large number. The banks in terms of their service are still far behind in China, so there's a need for outside talent to come in. And there's a big need to train locally hired staff.'

It appears the Chinese public is ready for foreign banks to offer new and better services. A recent survey of 3,384 people by mainland newspaper China Youth Daily found that 10.8 per cent of respondents said they would move their transactions to overseas banks - a vast market considering the nation's 1.4 billion population.

On the retail side, foreign banks would aggressively try to develop this business in areas such as credit cards, mortgages and investment products, though it could take many years for them to build up networks to approach the reach of the vast tentacles of goliaths such as the Bank of China or Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Mr Chanmueller said.

He said overseas banks appeared to have the competitive edge in the foreign currency business for trade finance, treasuries, and in cash and risk management.

The good news for job hunters is that investment and boutique banks, at both the international and local levels, are filling myriad positions - from analysts to senior posts and executive roles. Demand is highest for professionals in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, debt, leveraged finance and credit and equity.

Dan Chavasse, Michael Page International managing director for Greater China and Southeast Asia in Hong Kong, said the

skills shortage meant the competition by international and Chinese financial institutions to hire top-flight individuals was fierce.

'What is driving salaries are the international banks and joint ventures,' he said.

'But it is sometimes tough to persuade someone who is well paid and well regarded to leave Singapore and Hong Kong for a country where the market is just emerging.'