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Hong Kong Banking and Finance Jobs and Opportunities
Hong Kong’s finance and banking industry is its largest economic sector. It is a centre of global financial exchange – with the seventh-largest stock market in the world, and the eighth most-traded currency (HKD).
As a whole, finance involves creating, managing and allocating both monetary and non-monetary assets. Bankers and financiersare involved whenever money is bought, sold, borrowed, lent and invested. As such, they are a major force that enables the rest of the economy to function smoothly and grow. While making investment decisions, bankers find the rate of return by taking into consideration multiple factors, including the results of financial instruments and formulas, the time value of money, and contextual analysis of micro- and macro-environments. Since the financial markets are extremely complex and constantly changing, bankers and financiers must be flexible, perceptive and well equipped with financial tools and knowledge. This fast-paced and ultra-competitive environment contains the potential for great risk and greater rewards.
Those hoping to enter the banking and finance industry must seek work in one of the three main financial categories – personal, corporate or public finance. Financial services firms such as banks (commercial, merchant or investment), superannuation funds and wealth management companiesmay service all three categories (although smaller companies will focus on one, such as personal finance). Finance jobs may also be found in large corporations or in the public service, as most sizeable organisations have finance departments.
What do you need to get a job in this industry?
Competition for banking and finance jobs in Hong Kong is fierce, especially when it comes to the most lucrative, sought-after jobs (such as investment banking). This is particularly true for graduates, as the graduate job market pool contains eager job seekers from mainland China and abroad, as well as Hong Kong citizens. That said, Hong Kong citizens have the advantage, as non-citizens need to be sponsored to work there (meaning that since expats already are employed, they are not competing directly with Hong Kong graduates). Competition between graduates is exacerbated by the fact that recently many Hong Kong banks have been downsizing their workforce.
Successful candidates need to be well qualified in the theory and application of financial tools, and employers often also seek candidates with some real-world work experience. In addition, fluency in Mandarin and/or Cantonese as well as English is required. Some educational experience overseas is also a bonus, as it exposes the candidate to a global perspective, which is valuable to this profession.
Areas of Financial Study
There are a variety of possible tertiary qualifications within the field of finance. Usually for undergraduate students that involves a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with a specialisation in something like Finance, Financial Planning, Risk Management or Quantitative Analysis. Different universities will offer a slightly different mix of degrees. Degrees with greater specialisation come with both positives and negatives. On one hand, they provide the student with more in-depth knowledge and training than they would obtain with a more generalist degree (such as a straight BBA). For specialisations such as Quantitative Analysis, this can be an advantage in the jobs market. However these kinds of degrees will narrow a student’s possible career path, meaning if they change their mind and want to try a different type of finance or commercial specialisation, they may need to go back to university.
Post-graduate study is quite common for workers in the finance industry, who often go to work in the industry for a couple of years after graduating, thenlater studying to obtain a professional certification (such as the CFA) or a postgrad degree.
Types of Financial Institutions:
There are many type of financial institutions available for graduates to seek work. Some of the most prevalent are listed below:
- Commercial Bank
Commercial banks are involved in both personal finance (through retail banking) and corporate finance. They are the type of bank most often involved in ordinary day-to-day and business transactions. Commercial banks accept deposits from individuals and businesses, give credit and provide mortgage services. They may also provide other financial services, such as superannuation.
- Investment Bank
Investment banks trade shares, securities and currencies in the financial markets – thereby creating capital. These banks do not accept deposits, but provide companies with a variety of other services, including assistance in mergers and acquisitions, underwriting, and investment advice. Investment banking jobs, such as financial analyst, strategist or risk manager, are among the most sought after in the industry.
- Merchant Bank
Merchant banks do many of the same things for which investment banks are known, such as underwriting risk on new ventures, providing financial consulting, and investing in international markets. The key difference is in the type of company with which the bank deals. Merchant banks focus on small-to-medium businesses, while investment banks focus on public (listed) companies.
- Credit Union
Credit unions are mutually owned financial cooperatives that provide members with financial services, low-interest loans and a share of the fund’s profits. Credit unions are usually set up by workers’ unions (for example the Police Credit Union), and they may also be set up by other large organisations or groups.
Insurers provide surety against the uncertain chance of loss (for example against disaster, theft, legal dispute, injury or death). Some of the most important jobs in this industry include risk managers and actuaries.
- Superannuation Fund
Superannuation funds work by investing the money that workers pay into the trust into a portfolio, and growing the wealth so that come retirement, the worker will have grown their savings into a substantial amount to live on comfortably. There are several types of super-funds – industry funds, retail funds, stand-alone trusts and self-managed super-funds. Industry and retail funds are the firms most likely to offer graduate work.
- Hedge Fund
Hedge funds are aggressively managed portfolios of high-value investments, which are traded in the domestic and international markets on a principle of absolute returns. These funds, because they take more risk than other types of investment bank, require the absolute best investment bankers. They control billions of dollars’ worth of assets, and only cater to the super-rich and experiences investor.
- Venture Capital Fund
Venture Capitalists (VCs) fund high potential startups with innovative business models and/or technology. In exchange for the capital and the risk, the VC obtains equity and decision-making authority. These organisations are particularly active in the ICT, electronic, biotech and renewable energy industries.
Types of Finance Jobs:
- Financial Analyst/Strategist
Financial analysts evaluate the investment potential of business entities, using financial information obtained from the company (including both its financial performance and history, as well as insights into management) and the wider micro- and macro-environment. An analyst’s work forms the basis upon which investment decisions are made, and thus they are essential to most financial institutions – including investment banks, insurance companies, hedge- and super-funds. The work of a financial strategist involves advising investors on what strategies to employ in different financial markets, and is often performed by a financial analyst, although sometimes they are two separate roles.
- Financial Advisor
Financial advisors fall into a general category of people who render financial services to companies or other individuals. Actual work involved may vary – sometimes the financial advisor works as a representative of a financial service firm, or may work as a broker, a financial planner or a legal advisor. Some of these roles (such as financial planner) require professional certification.
- Quantitative Analyst (Quant)
Quantitative analysts use mathematics and statistical tools to value stocks, derivatives, currencies and other investments and thus to develop strategies for investment, manage risk and set prices. These analysts are in demand in most financial organisations.
- Financial Risk Manager
Financial risk managers identify, measure and manage risk. They are involved at most levels of corporate and personal finance, as most of what money-managing organisations do involves speculation and is dependent to an extent on the factors in the micro- and macro-environment.
- Portfolio Manager
The portfolio manager is a financial institution’s investment decision-maker. These individuals take on board the information obtained by analysts, the recommendations of strategists, as well as information from stakeholders, and weigh carefully the risks and rewards before coming to a decision.
- Financial Commentator
Financial commentators do not work in the financial industry as such (in that they do not deal directly in the value-creation and speculation) but they have an important role to play in the media – as writers, commentators and presenters. While they are not qualified investment advisors, they nevertheless are often an indirect source of financial advice to laypeople who don’t have the inclination, money or time to hire a financial advisor. As such, financial commentators need to be knowledgeable, well informed, abreast of trends in the financial markets, and to have a deep understanding of the variety of macro-environmental factors at work in the economy, in order to comment and offer opinion on the implication of these factors to the financial market. This job is ideal for someone with an interest in finance and a flair for communication.
The finance and banking industry’s high salaries attracts massive competition among graduates. To impress an employer, it is a great advantage to be able to stand out by demonstrating, in addition to theoretical knowledge, the ability to apply these theories and tools in practice, in a real-world setting. Work experience also provides a candidate with interpersonal and communication skills, and demonstrates to an employer the ability to work in a team environment. As such, some work experience in a finance role is highly desirable.
Large banks and financial institutions know that finding and nurturing the best new talent is important to their long-term survival. Therefore these organisations often provide internships to penultimate-year students. Spaces are limited, and hotly contested, so for those unable to secure an internship in a big company, it is worth approaching some smaller financial services companies or even asking to assist an independent financier (such as a broker or financial planner). If this fails, any kind of work (even unskilled work) is better than none – since even the most menial, unskilled job demonstrates valuable skills that employers look for (such as diligence, a good attitude, teamwork, communication etc.).
Professional Financial Certification
After graduating, financiers looking to improve their job prospects (especially in the largest financial services companies like JP Morgan) will find it advantageous to obtain some form of professional accreditation, depending on their specialisation. Becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), a Certified International Investment Analyst (CIIA) or a Financial Risk Manager (FRM) is a long and challenging process, involving arduous study, several years’ full-time work and ongoing professional development. However some employers help sponsor, support and guide this process.
Salary Estimates for Finance Graduates
While the finance industry is known for the high salaries and bonuses that experienced bankers and financiers can expect to receive, recent graduates should not expect to be earning exorbitant millions in the beginning (although starting salaries are still much better than for most other industries). For the most lucrative industry segments (such as investment banking) Payscale reported a median starting salary of HK$264 000, while insurance and commercial banking reported starting salaries not far below: HK$252 000 and HK$220 000 respectively. Other financial services start at around HK$192 000.
Large financial services companies usually offer attractive benefits to employees so as to attract talent. These benefits may include bonuses, insurance, sponsorship for professional accreditation or further study, and sometimes even travel allowance.