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Sun, Dec 28, 2008 - Page 12 News List

Chinese financial firms look abroad

As Chinese graduates lack practical market experience, foreigners are of great value

By Jimmy Wang  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Perhaps it is not surprising then that the majority of the 27 financial institutions represented at the recruiting event, including Citic, the Bank of Shanghai (上海銀行), the Pudong Development Bank (浦東發展銀行) and the Shanghai Stock Exchange, all advertised for senior risk managers with three years to 10 years of experience with international companies in comparable positions.

More than 250 people pre-registered for the Queens event and more than 850 packed the ballroom. A long line spilled down the hallway, forcing staff members to limit interviews to three minutes. The applicants were a diverse array of nationalities.

“Institutions here are looking for people to fill senior positions overseeing risk management, compliance and derivatives. Most importantly, they’re looking for people with a global view,” said Qin Wang, 32, a banker and a member of the Chinese Finance Association, which helped organize the New York event.

In addition to formal recruiting events, many financial sector workers have sought jobs in China on their own, working through friends and informal social networks.

Tom Leggett, 30, left his investment banking job at Lazard in New York in July, ahead of expected layoffs, and moved to Beijing to search for opportunities.

“I talked things over with my parents and friends and decided to come to Beijing to canvas the scene,” he said. “I’ve been talking to both recruiters and friends in my network.”

Despite the swelling number of unemployed financial service employees, those qualified to work for Chinese firms is extremely small. Leggett’s background in Chinese — he studied Mandarin for four years as an undergraduate student at Columbia — made his move feasible. He has shocked many recruiters with his Chinese ability: “They see a tall, white guy and they’ve got low expectations. When they find out I can say a lot more than ‘hello,’ in Chinese, they begin to take me seriously.”

While most Chinese employees of financial institutions can speak English, Chinese is still a must for many recruiters.

“We’re looking for bilingual candidates because we are constantly negotiating with local Chinese companies, and those meetings are all in Chinese,” Hong said.

Despite the opportunities China can present, many candidates decide, in the end, not to move — hence the Chinese companies’ global search.

Robert Eng, 53, who used to work in the global investment division of Citigroup in New York, traveled to Hong Kong to interview for the director of private wealth position at a large Chinese financial institution. He received an offer, but turned it down, choosing to remain in the US.

“The compensation package was great, but at this point in my life it doesn’t make sense for me; my family is here. Maybe if I were 20 years younger,” Eng said.

For many ambitious overseas candidates, a matter of worry is that they are all but guaranteed to hit a glass ceiling at state-run Chinese companies. Senior management is appointed by the personnel department of the Chinese Communist Party — regardless of the votes or recommendations of shareholders or board directors.

And for many foreigners, the decision to move to China involves accepting a drastic change in lifestyle.

Brian Connors, 35, is the owner of the Bridge cafe, a popular Italian-style restaurant and cafe in the northwest of Beijing that caters to foreigners studying Mandarin and Chinese looking to practice their English.

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