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The new springboard to a lucrative banking career in Hong Kong

Here's how you get to Hong Kong

If you’re a mainland-based financial professional aspiring to work for a global bank in Hong Kong, the wealth management sector is increasingly becoming a good launch pad to make the move.

Led by UBS, international private banks are trying to expand their ranks of onshore relationship managers (RMs) in China – and if you clinch one of these jobs now you could eventually build up enough clients who want their assets booked (and you based) in Hong Kong.

UBS has been building a China team since 2004 to complement its main Asian wealth hubs in Hong Kong and Singapore, and it continues to hire there. “In the long-term, it's pretty clear that with all the ongoing (regulatory) changes, people will regain more confidence in the (Chinese) government and people will want their assets close to home and I want to be able to access those assets,” Juerg Zeltner, wealth management CEO at UBS, told Reuters last month.

This year, though, UBS faces more competition in the hiring market. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and J.P. Morgan are also trying to recruit more RMs in China, says Jason Tan, a financial services partner at search firm Being & Associates in Shanghai. “There’re hiring but are considered to be late comers in private banking and are still finding their feet in China compared to UBS,” he adds.

The pool of mainland RMs with experience at a global private bank is tiny and this is opening up opportunities across the country’s finance sector. Unlike in mature markets, UBS and its competitors will consider candidates from investment banks and corporate banks – both local and foreign – and even salespeople from the luxury consumer sector, says Howard Huo, a private banking recruiter at search firm Pro-Matrix & Co in Beijing.

Relationships with high-net-worth individuals – China has about 758,000 millionaires – are what matters. “In China if a non-traditional candidate has strong relationships which are new to the bank, the bank may decide to hire them,” says Josie Ling, a consultant at search firm Eban. “And large banks typically have well-developed training programmes to convert these hires into RMs in a short time frame.”

Starting your private banking career in China comes with some advantages. You'll get to spend more time around your clients if you’re onshore – and relationships matter a lot in China,” says Huo. “Clients will believe you’re more trustworthy and are a ‘real’ private banker because you’re always able to show up and meet them in person.”

After about three years or more of building mainland relationships, however, moving yourself and your clients’ assets to Hong Kong becomes desirable for both you and your bank. “UBS and others want to access wealth onshore to create a compliant framework to then move funds offshore as and when Chinese regulations allow them to,” says Rahul Sen, head of private wealth management at search firm The Omerta Group. “And for bankers being onshore has its limitations: lower salaries, higher taxes, and of course a more limited product offering.”

“Regulations mean private bankers in China don’t have too much choice but to keep their clients’ assets on a basic product line,” says Huo from Pro-Matrix. “But this isn’t a sustainable growth path for banks, or for bankers’ careers in the long term.”

“As an onshore banker in China you can generate more revenue by eventually even taking your clients themselves overseas – wealthy Chinese are increasingly on the lookout for better life,” adds Tan from Being & Associates.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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