Hong Kong’s finance sector has had a tough year. According to Reuters, banking and finance executives, especially in investment banking, faced job cuts and intense competition from Shanghai as a financial hub.
If you are planning to build a finance career in Hong Kong, it’s important to ensure that you understand the current trends and stay on top of the skills and experience that may give you a competitive edge.
Whether you’re in a job interview or conducting a boardroom meeting, you need to be prepared to answer some questions that are becoming more common in Hong Kong for those in finance.
Here are 5 questions that you may face – and how you can answer them.
1. "How do we stay relevant with the rise of fintech?”
With the Nikkei reporting that financial technology (fintech) taking Asia by storm, don’t be surprised if this question pops up regularly. Hong Kong is right now caught up in the waves, eager to rival Singapore as the Asian innovation hub.
It’s important to be aware that under such a fintech-friendly climate, alternatives to traditional banks flourish, posing unique challenges to financial institutions in Hong Kong. For instance, Hong Kong-based robo-advisors such as 8 Securities and Quantifeed pose formidable competition to traditional wealth managers.
However, fintech can also be used to complement instead of compete against traditional financial services. Today’s customers are constantly connected and demand the same level of online connectivity from their banks. At the same time, popular online apps are constantly innovating, leading customers to expect a high level of innovation from their banks too.
If you’re asked about fintech, appreciate that this is a good opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge about a particular sector of the finance industry. While there are pros and cons, fintech innovations can help address some of the challenges faced by the industry. For instance, robo advisors can help automate administrative aspects of wealth management so that relationship managers have more time to focus on the value-added service of client advising.
2. "This role is only available on a contract basis – would you have an issue with that?”
With Hong Kong’s financial firms rapidly investing in new projects, questions around contract recruitment are on the rise to meet an increased need for project-specific consultants in the region. According to Robert Half’s Salary Guide, 49% of business leaders in Hong Kong cite new projects as a key driver of finance and accounting recruitment.
The challenge that business leaders face project-wise is that new projects don’t always create – or call for – full-time roles. For instance, finance professionals that are needed for specific projects may be out of work once the said project is complete.
If you’re asked to consider a contract role, don’t be too quick to dismiss it – it can be a blessing in disguise. Taking up interim jobs can diversify your finance career portfolio and help you upskill yourself, particularly in the area of project management - which is an in-demand skill among Hong Kong employers.
3. "How well do you speak Mandarin?”
Ever since Hong Kong returned to China in the 1990s, Putonghua (Mandarin) usage in the region has been on the rise. The Telegraph reports that in Hong Kong’s most recent full census, Mandarin overtook English as the country’s second language (after Cantonese), due to increased localisation and business relations with China.
Research conducted by local non-profit group Unison found that non-Chinese speakers will face a disadvantage in Hong Kong’s job market. Out of the 1,500 jobs surveyed, 51 percent required written Mandarin and 26 percent required spoken Mandarin. Although some job postings do not explicitly state their language requirement, this question may pop up in one’s finance career in Hong Kong.
In the banking sector particularly, this trend is exacerbated with the entry of Chinese financial institutions. While Western firms like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are scaling back their operations in Hong Kong, Chinese banks are rising in the M&A advisory rankings. In fact, China International Capital Corporation (CICC) overtook Goldman Sachs as the top M&A institution in Asia Pacific this year.
This is a question that needs to be pre-empted by your own efforts to upskill yourself. Attaining a fluency in Mandarin could keep you ahead of the competition in Hong Kong’s job market, and will allow you to respond to this question with the confidence that you can meet the rising demand of this language competence.
4. "How should our industry respond to cloud innovation?"
Despite being a mainstream form of tech disruption elsewhere in Asia according to the South China Morning Post, cloud computing only started to take off in Hong Kong recently.
Some notable cloud developments in Hong Kong include the launching of Aliyun, Alibaba’s cloud data centre, in May 2014 - as well as the hosting of cloud conferences such as Trend Micro’s CLOUDSEC earlier this year.
A Forrester study commissioned by Microsoft reports that leading Hong Kong financial institutions are ‘pragmatic but optimistic’ in their cloud adoption. Public cloud initiatives are in the near-term plans as part of digital innovation.
At the same time, technology research firm IDC estimated that total spending on cloud services in Hong Kong will reach US$685 million (HK$5.32 billion) in 2017.
Cloud adoption is a question that will eventually pop up during your finance career. To answer, you need to pinpoint specific cloud solutions (as well as its risks) such as cloud security that can solve company-specific situations. Some examples of finance-specific cloud advantages include flexibility in infrastructure capacity, reduced provisioning times, and reduced time to market/value.
5. "What professional qualifications do you have?"
With roles in financial planning, costing, risk and compliance, and audit in demand this year, professional qualifications are the focus in Hong Kong’s finance industry. According to Robert Half’s Salary Guide, Hong Kong’s finance firms regard qualifications such as the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) as the ‘gold standard’ for most finance jobs.
Despite having the need for qualified professionals to fill in-demand jobs, Hong Kong employers still face a talent shortage in this area - 40% of Hong Kong financial firms cite a lack of qualifications as a key hurdle in their hiring. Because of this, the question of professional qualifications can sometimes be the determinant for professionals pursuing a finance career in the region.
To secure a finance career in Hong Kong, it’s important that you invest in professional courses as part of your career development. When asked about your qualifications in a job interview/boardroom setting, list examples of how your qualifications have helped you contribute to your career in a meaningful, quantifiable way.
Face Hong Kong’s finance career challenges head-on
With the right mindset and preparation, you can demonstrate your ability to face these challenging questions head-on and build a firm foundation for your finance career.
What is key to your success is regularly researching and understanding the trends in the finance and job market to ensure you stay ahead.