Mr. Shangkong

Chinese banks in Hong Kong go quiet on last year's promised bonus

Chinese banks in Hong Kong have been aggressive recruiters since the global financial crisis, but new hires should be wary of salary bonuses

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 2:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 6:28am

Is it too late to get your bonus in May? I'm talking about last year's bonus, not this year's. It is something that some Hong Kong-based staff at several mainland investment banks have been waiting anxiously for.

The 2008 global financial crisis that originated on Wall Street changed the industry landscape significantly and also resulted in big changes to the job market for banking professionals in Asia. Many have left big international banks such as HSBC and Citigroup for rapidly expanding Chinese banks in the past few years.

They have typically moved for two reasons: they were laid off and had to find a new job quickly, or they may have been attracted by incentives such as big job titles and fat salaries and bonuses promised by Chinese banks, the most aggressive hirers in Hong Kong's financial industry in recent years. In comparison, it seems that news about layoffs at Western banks in the city never stops.

It seems that news about layoffs at Western banks in the city never stops

Last week I met "Z", a Western bank-educated professional who moved to a new Chinese employer after the financial crisis. He worked for a major European bank in Hong Kong until last year, when he was given a pitch by one of the top five mainland investment banks in the city. His new boss offered a nice title - "executive director" - which Z may only have received after another three to four years working at the foreign bank. The title came with a promise that Z would receive a year-end bonus equal to at least five months' salary.

Sounds tempting, right? Z quit the European bank and accepted the job offer with the mainland bank.

More than a year later, Z has been paid each month but has begun to wonder if he will ever receive the bonus. His boss first announced to all mid- and senior-level staff that 2013's year-end bonus would be delayed, and then announced a further delay. More recently, his boss has gone quiet about the bonus. Z couldn't help but ask his boss about it last week. The answer? "Don't you read newspaper these days? Do you know what's happened to Barclays recently?"

Barclays, the second-largest British bank by assets, announced last week that it was cutting 14,000 jobs across the group globally.

If you privately ask anyone working for a mainland bank in Hong Kong about their bonus, you may find Z's story is definitely not an isolated case. Many will share more or less the same "delay, delay again and then silence" stories about their 2013 bonus. Some Chinese bosses may try to sugar-coat the delay. Although it is already May, they may ask you to wait a few more months.

Some of you may think the job market is bad enough these days, so how dare Z and others ask for a bonus. But the sad truth about working for a mainland bank in Hong Kong is that your base salary is sometimes far below the market average, so you do have good reason to expect to receive your bonus, which can be viewed as something to close to salary gap.

The next time you accept a job offer, perhaps you should be more cautious about what you might eventually receive. A verbal promise of a big bonus could be worth less than ensuring you get paid fairly on a monthly basis.


George Chen is the financial editor and a columnist at the Post. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit