How to move out of Hong Kong banking and get a job with a corporate

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How to move out of Hong Kong banking and get a job with a corporate

Fancy quitting investment banking for a corporate development role at a company in Hong Kong? You are, at least in theory, in high demand. Expansionist companies from Alibaba to Fosun are on the hunt for bankers, especially those with M&A expertise. 

But as corporate careers become more popular within Hong Kong investment banking, you still need to stand out from the competition to get hired. Here's what to do.

How do you get a corporate development job?

1. Target companies from China

Western multi-nationals are not your best choice if you want to start a corporate development career in Hong Kong. There are two common routes for bankers looking to move: mainland conglomerates and local Hong Kong corporates. 

2. Target companies like your clients

You are likely to get a job with a company of a similar size to that of your current clients. Candidates from the bulge bracket tend to attract attention from the bigger conglomerates, while those from boutique firms typically move to smaller ones.

3. Don't wait too long

If you have less than five years’ experience in investment banking, a corporate career in Hong Kong is a much more viable option than it was just two or three years ago. Companies from Greater China are no longer just hiring senior bankers – they now need junior staff to execute mergers and listings.

4. Make sure you're joining a company that's busy with M&A

While investment banks are notorious for making layoffs, corporates aren’t guarantors of job security either. Bankers are advised to research the longer-term viability of any in-house roles they apply for. “If your company stops doing acquisitions, your job automatically becomes a waste of time for them – I’ve seen cases of this,” says Eunice Ng, director of headhunters Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong.

5. Specialise in a hot sector

Industry bankers may also be sought after if the job requirements are more sector-specific than product focused. Traditionally, FIG and real estate have been the hottest sectors to make a transition. More recently, however, Chinese technology companies have been the most aggressive recruiters of bankers.  Tencent, for example, has built its business empire around taking minority stakes in scores of other firms, turning it into one of the world’s biggest investment corporations in the process, and driving its hiring of bankers. Click here for a list of some of Tencent's recent banker hires. 

6. Don't just go for tech because it's hot 

Tech start-ups have been among the companies trying to hire in-house bankers over the past two years. But don’t be overwhelmed by the number of opportunities on offer – focus on firms whose business actually interests you. “If my job offer had come from just another e-commerce company, I probably wouldn’t have been so keen. But we’re doing something worthwhile: we’re trying to improve the Chinese healthcare system,” says Jeff Chen, a former APAC head of technology investment banking for at HSBC, who joined Chinese online healthcare firm WeDoctor as chief strategy officer last year. “I took a few weeks to think about the job, which is sensible when you’re making a big career change,” says Chen.

7. Think long term

“When you’re in-house, you think more strategically and long term. Completing a transaction is only the first step, you then need to work on successful implementation and integration,” says Chen. “Your role is advisory at a bank, so once a deal closes, you move on to the next one.”

8. Don’t act like a banker

If you’re dealing with a client you hope might soon become your employer, or if you’re interviewing for an in-house job, don’t come across as a swaggering investment banker. “An unspoken rule among corporates is that the bankers they bring on board should be humble and be willing to learn the ins and outs of working within their culture,” says the Hong Kong headhunter.

9. Research the reality of your target companies

Even if you have a great knowledge of the business goals and financial standing of companies you want to work for, you must also research what it’s like to actually work for them. “Many bankers have an organ-donor rejection to joining a company because the environment is often slower and more bureaucratic, and many miss the dynamic cut and thrust of a bank,” says William Bown, an executive director at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Hong Kong.

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Image credit: akiyoko, Getty

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