Laid-off expat bankers struggle to find job opportunities in Hong Kong

Expat bankers who lost their jobs and want to remain in Hong Kong often have to consider lower-paying options or demotions

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For years, Hong Kong was a hotspot with plum jobs for overseas bankers as global firms hired aggressively. But many recently laid-off bankers in the city are finding that cost-cutting and a demand for Mandarin speakers have diminished the opportunities for expats in Asia’s financial hub.

After Deutsche Bank AG announced plans for wide-ranging cuts this week, many employees worldwide are facing the challenge of job-hunting in a shrinking market. For foreign staff losing positions in Hong Kong, it could be harder than most.
Other international firms such as Nomura Holdings Inc. have also cut jobs in Hong Kong. At the same time, the city’s famously expensive living costs, including some of the world’s highest rents, mean that even senior bankers need to find new jobs fast in order to stay.

The upshot? Expat bankers who lost their jobs and want to remain in Hong Kong often have to consider lower-paying options or demotions. Some with longer-running ties to the city are looking at switching careers, weighing everything from consulting to cryptocurrency outfits.

During the global financial crisis of 2008, Asian banks and local Chinese firms hired those who had been laid off by foreign players, said Will Glover, Hong Kong-based managing director for recruitment firm Macdonald & Co. That’s less likely this year and some of those taking on new jobs may have to take pay cuts, he said.

“You get that volume of people anywhere into a market at one time and inevitably a lot of people will leave the market altogether," Glover said. "There will not be enough opportunities to absorb all that supply.”

While global banks are ramping up their focus on China, more of them are looking for people with language skills and networks on the Chinese mainland.

A senior banker in Hong Kong who is in his 50s and was laid off from a European investment bank earlier this year said he would like to continue to live in the city, where his children go to school.

But he expects it to be hard to find a top job because banks are moving people internally or hiring more people locally. His monthly rent is about HK$100,000 ($12,800), making it essential to find a job soon if he decides to stay.