Help! I’m deciding whether to work in mainland China, or work in Hong Kong

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Help! I’m deciding whether to work in mainland China, or work in Hong Kong

I’m graduating next year with a finance degree from the University of Hong Kong, but I haven’t yet secured a job offer, despite having good grades and two internships under my belt. I’d like to work in private wealth or asset management, ideally in a large private bank or large hedge fund, and I’m still fairly confident I’ll be able to do this.

But there’s another big consideration for me: should I take a job in Hong Kong or Shanghai? At the beginning of my degree, Hong Kong was the only option (realistically, I don’t think I’d get hired outside of Asia as a graduate). But now Hong Kong has suffered political unrest and China is fast-tracking the development of Shanghai as a financial centre….so Shanghai is a more attractive place to start a career than it was even three years ago.  

Over the past few months, I’ve therefore been actively looking for grad jobs in both Hong Kong SAR and Shanghai. As a local Hongkonger, that’s a big change for me. Considering things objectively and setting aside my personal political views, mainland China has proven itself to be a strong economy over the past two decades and it’s still growing, albeit more slowly than in the past. Moreover, it’s getting tougher anecdotally for students to secure graduate jobs in Hong Kong – I think banks are trimming entry-level headcounts here.

But although working in mainland China could be good for my career long-term, as I could take advantage of Shanghai’s rise as a financial centre, there are some potential downsides. I speak Mandarin but I’m not connected to the financial community in Shanghai and I don’t know what the mainland working culture is like. Perhaps I would feel out of place as a Hongkonger who’s never experienced life in mainland China.

Staying in Hong Kong would keep me in my comfort zone. I’m familiar with the recruitment process at financial services firms here, I did all my internships here, and all my connections in the industry are here. Most importantly, Hong Kong is my home and will always be my home: I was born and grew up here. I feel a sense of belonging to Hong Kong, and I’m genuinely proud of our open economy and transparent financial system. I still have high hopes that my city will bounce back from its political and economic troubles in the near future.

On a practical level, I could live with my parents for the first few years of my working life in Hong Kong, but in Shanghai I’d need to find a flat, which is a major expense. Not only that – tax is much higher in China and it’s likely that my graduate salary would be lower than in Hong Kong.

But still, but still: part of me feels that I need to look past the starting salary and any short-term challenges of settling into a new city. Mainland financial services is such an enormous market and Shanghai could give me better access to it over the long term, potentially opening up new career opportunities that I haven’t even thought of yet.

The choice between Hong Kong and Shanghai isn’t straightforward these days, and I’d ultimately be grateful to land a graduate job in either city.

Wynter Chao (not her real name) is a final-year student at HKU.


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