Banks ponder big push into Vietnam

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 August, 2007, 12:00am

Where investment goes jobs are bound to follow, and Vietnam - the target of US$63billion in foreign investment commitments made since the country opened its doors to offshore investors in 1987 - has become the hottest employment market in Asia.

With big Hong Kong investors prominent in the cross-border capital flows, local employers such as HSBC are on the lookout for staff in Vietnam, and further relaxations announced last month to rules regarding foreign investment by banks could lift demand for banking skills in the country further.

HSBC, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, and Standard Chartered, are among the foreign lenders reported to be poised to take up licences to set up wholly-owned operations in Vietnam. Already stakeholders in domestic banks, several foreign players are now said to be weighing their options under the policy change announced by the Vietnamese government last month to invest in their own operations too.

A decision on whether to grant the licences is expected from the central bank during the last quarter of this year and will be in line with undertakings made by Vietnam when it joined the World Trade Organisation in January. In terms of the commitments, it is obliged to fully open its banking sector to foreign competition by 2011 and remove existing caps on foreign stakeholdings in local lenders.

Vietnam has so far allowed four domestic banks to sell stakes to foreigners. Among them are HSBC, which owns a 15 per cent stake in Techcombank, and ANZ, which has a 10 per cent stake in Sacombank.

The latest available employment data for the country shows that jobs' demand was up 35 per cent in the first quarter of the year, driven chiefly by foreign investment flows, a rapidly expanding economy and the decision to approve Vietnam's accession to the WTO.

'Vietnam joining the WTO probably added more points to the demand index because there were more investing companies with more hiring needs across Vietnam,' reported VietnamWorks, the country's largest online job search group.

The index was up 2,758 points to 10,550 points at the end of the first quarter, it said, and topping the jobs being advertised were postings in the sales and accounting/ finance sectors, with the latter offering the highest salaries.

The top six job categories in the survey, conducted quarterly by the Navigos Group for 156 companies, were: sales, accounting/finance, engineering, administrative/ clerical, IT-software, and marketing.

With Asian investors in the vanguard, foreign direct investment (FDI) into Vietnam amounted to US$10.2billion in 2006, an increase of 47 per cent over the previous year, and by the end of this year, a further US$20billion could flow into the country, Nguyen Sinh Hung, Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, said at a World Economic Forum conference in Singapore last month.

That blistering pace of investment inflows, and an economy likely to post a growth rate for 2007 of above 8 per cent and forecast to continue growing at that level for the next five years, was putting strains on the country's skilled labour pool, said Mr Hung.

'We want to encourage foreign investors to come to Vietnam,' he told delegates. 'We are changing from a command economy to a market economy, which means big local groups are in the process of privatisation.

'This will see the continuation not only of direct foreign investment, but also financial investment flows into the corporatisation and privatisation of companies.

'We will also forge connectivity between markets with share issues and some domestic companies may seek international listings for their shares, for instance on the Singapore market.'

Quizzed on the biggest challenges facing the government in its bid to sustain economic growth targets and provide jobs, Hung said the keys were peace and stability in the region and the upgrading of skills in the country's workforce. To this end Vietnam was embarking on a programme of upgrading its education system and it invited foreign investors to help train the labour force at all levels.

HSBC, named last month by financial publication FinanceAsia as the best foreign bank in Vietnam for 2007, is among the foreign bankers on the lookout for several key staff members in its operation there.

Vacancies advertised by HSBC on VietnamWorks' 'job-search' include posts such as treasurer operations officer, deputy manager security and fraud risk, treasury dealer, information technology manager, manager e-channel and manager branch channel.

HSBC first opened an office in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1870. In 1995 it opened a full-service branch in Ho Chi Minh City, a branch in Hanoi in 2005 and a representative office in Can Tho City.

In December 2005, HSBC completed a transaction to acquire a 10 per cent stake in the country's third-largest joint-stock commercial bank by equity, Vietnam Technological and Commercial Joint Stock Bank (Techcombank), and last month, following a further relaxation of foreign investment controls, raised this stake to 15 per cent, making the Hong Kong-based subsidiary of London-headquartered HSBC Holdings, the biggest foreign player in the Vietnam banking market.

Vincent Cheng, chairman of HSBC, said: 'Raising our investment in Techcombank will allow us to expand our presence in one of Asia's fastest growing economies.

'In addition to our increased shareholding, we plan to extend the technical service assistance we provide to Techcombank, and both parties intend to explore joint business opportunities. HSBC has committed US$13.5million to support the agreements on technical service assistance over a five-year period.'

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