Chinese banks are hiring on Wall Street, but there's a catch

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While U.S. and European banks alike have been shedding headcount in leveraged finance, Chinese banks are pushing ahead with hiring on Wall Street. There's just one catch - you need to speak Mandarin.

Chinese banks are targeting bilingual experienced bankers in leveraged finance, primarily U.S. citizens or those with permanent residencies. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), China Merchants Bank and, to a lesser extent, the Bank of China are all hiring. The latter recently opened a new office on 6th Ave. in Midtown Manhattan.

“Asian banks see a huge leveraged finance opportunity here in the U.S. – many have overcome their previous reluctance to add significant headcount in the U.S. and are putting more and more of their lending and approval operations here in the U.S. to compete with entrenched players in the industry,” said Jordan Shapiro, managing director in the financial services practice at recruiters the Bachrach Group.

Asian banks are hiring corporate bankers, leveraged finance professionals and syndicated finance specialists, he said, as well as debt capital markets pros.

Chinese banks see the U.S. as an opportunity to compete and grow

With GE Capital exiting the leveraged finance market and some bulge-brackets like J.P. Morgan unwilling or unable (due to capital adequacy ratio requirements) to increase their presence in the middle-market lending space where the risk is higher, it has opened up an opportunity for foreign banks to compete by putting boots on the ground in America.

Cesar DeLara, a senior consultant in the investment banking practice at Selby Jennings, adds. “Chinese banks have such big lending platforms, which is what drives them to stay on that side of the business and concentrate on building that out in the U.S. Typically these types of bankers have a career path where someone sits a long time and doesn’t move much, but foreign banks making are moves in this area and poaching from competitors."

Many Chinese banks want to hire from big U.S. institutions, but the right skills are more important.

“They offer an increased ability to be transactional, with an easier credit process or greater ability to access capital for loans and funding for deals, so it's only a matter of time before the middleman gets cut out,” Shapiro said. “Many [Chinese banks] start out targeting more senior [hires] then work further down.

“They want experienced folks who are comfortable not just originating loans but also with portfolio construction, because each deal has a relatively significant impact on the overall portfolio,” he said. “It’s not just about bringing in the deals, but also how to construct a portfolio that has a balance of risk across sector, geography and loan type.”

A major caveat: You must speak Mandarin

Foreign banks typically use up their allotment of H-1B visas to fill out their back-office roles, so the ones they are hiring for are high-value in terms of compensation. However, a majority of candidates are Chinese nationals who are permanent residents – they typically have green cards, rather than having to ask for H-1B visas. A minority of hires are U.S. citizens who speak Mandarin.

“For the most part, they are looking to hire Chinese natives who happen to have permanent residency or U.S. citizenship,” DeLara said. “Successful candidates’ native language is Mandarin and they speak fluent English.”

Photo credit: sigurcamp/GettyImages

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