Financial sector short of talent

Updated: 2011-07-22 11:09

By He Wei (China Daily European Weekly)

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 Financial sector short of talent

Lack of talented people with strategically innovative thinking and professional experience will hinder the development of the finanical sector. Jin Rong / for China Daily

Diverging emphases

As a fast-expanding commercial bank in the region, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ) is facing this problem.

ANZ established its first China branch in Shanghai in 1993 and completed its local incorporation in October 2010.

Given the target of building a super-regional bank across the Asia-Pacific region, Grant Knuckey, ANZ deputy chief executive officer and head of institutional banking in China, says he urgently needs professionals who have a strong customer focus and networking skills and can help connect resources, opportunities and stakeholders.

"Localization is important. Our current staffing in China would be approximately 95 percent local talent," he says, adding people who have good knowledge of the local market will enhance the bank's success in China.

The banker also says it usually takes time to identify the right candidates in what is a highly competitive market.

Standard Chartered Bank PLC also embraces the localization strategy. More than 90 percent of its employees in Shanghai are local Chinese.

"Localization is our foothold in hiring, because we now have one of the largest foreign bank networks in 18 cities with 69 outlets. We aim to nurture our future leaders in locations where our clients need us," says Jennifer Jin, head of human resources at Standard Chartered China.

However, Robert Theleen, a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, takes a different view.

Theleen runs his own company, ChinaVest, in Shanghai. It provides corporate finance advisory and investment services to US and European clients who are seeking entry into the Chinese market.

He says the key is to recruit people with global exposure, regardless of their knowledge about China.

"I am not trying to say that understanding China is not critical. But my point is, in building a global financial center, you shouldn't be thinking just about China. So if you have one banker from Kuala Lumpur with 10 years of experience in corporate lending in the Southeast Asian markets, wouldn't it be terrific to have him based in Shanghai?" Theleen says.

An old China hand, Theleen has served on the advisory board for financial system restructuring under the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic agency. He says even State-owned banks such as Bank of China Ltd and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd are keen to hire seasoned foreign executives for their investment banking arms.

To succeed in Shanghai, Theleen considers global financial expertise as equally, if not more, crucial as understanding of China, since "after years of reform and opening up, the rules you follow in China have switched from the traditional inter-personal relationship, also known as guanxi in China, to a more institutional and professional manner".

Overseas experience

Local business schools have been playing catch-up with global teaching methodologies and textbooks after aspiring young people flocked to the United States and the United Kingdom for degrees in subjects such as finance, economics and management in the hope of riding Shanghai's financial market boom in the near future.

After graduating, many of them sought jobs in New York, London and Hong Kong instead of returning to Shanghai in the belief that challenging and dynamic job opportunities in a mature market would be a better stepping stone in their career paths.

Admitted into the masters program in management at London Business School, 22-year-old Wu Yabin is determined to start with a job in the UK capital after graduation. "I am confident about Shanghai's outlook as a global financial center and would like to go back eventually. But overseas working experience is essential if I am to find a management-level job in the future," he says.

While Shanghai is likely to lose finance graduates who care more about global exposure in a mature market to New York and Hong Kong, it does mean those who elect to go to Shanghai can climb up the career ladder more quickly and face less fierce competition.

Seven years ago, Zhang Tianxiang returned to Shanghai from Australia with an actuary degree, a major barely heard of on the Chinese mainland back then. Now aged 29, Zhang has already been promoted to a management position at an insurance company.

"Quite a few department heads and fund managers are in their early 30s. We would not be in management positions this quickly had we worked in New York or Hong Kong, where there are much more experienced financial professionals," Zhang says.


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