Hong Kong is known for its vibrant expat community, with a sizeable portion of the crowd working in banking. However, last Friday, Bloomberg reported that many employees in the banking sector have recently been laid off due to the changing landscape of the labor market.
Global firms such as Barclays, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank used to hire in droves, but as of late even senior staff have been given the ax. The main factor can be attributed to global banks shifting their focus to China, with more of these firms looking for people with language skills (i.e. Mandarin) and networks on the Chinese mainland. These cuts will, unfortunately, affect more Western expats, while Chinese citizens reap the benefits.
Last week Deutsche Bank announced a massive reorganization which will look to “cut about half its equities staff in Asia and... reduce the group by another 25% within a month,” a source told Bloomberg. Some of those who have been laid off have deep ties to the city, living in the Fragrant Harbor for decades. With a sky-high cost of living, the question now is whether to take a demotion, switch jobs entirely or move out of the city.
A recently laid off Hong Kong Deutsche Bank employee said that “many of her colleagues plan to stay in Hong Kong and are looking at positions in banking, family offices, or asset management.” Another popular route post-finance life is cryptocurrency, as confirmed by an ex-Deutsche Bank employee, Su Zhu, who now runs a foreign exchange/cryptocurrency fund called Three Arrows Capital.
A European banker laid off from a top Asian bank said that “he took a holiday and is now pondering working in a start-up or even moving out of Hong Kong.”
Foreign employees now face competition from homegrown talent as banks can “choose from a widening pool of young professionals raised in Hong Kong who speak multiple languages, are familiar with Chinese culture, have trained overseas and don’t require expensive relocation packages.”
It appears that we are witnessing a turning of the tide when it comes to working in Hong Kong and the Far East. The conditions that have made the region an accessible place of employment for expats seeking white-collar professions are changing in favor of the local population. Unless job-seeking expats can start offering additional skills, such as bilingualism, it is hard to envisage a reversal of this current trend.
[Cover image via Unsplash]