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Wealth of talent

Published on Saturday, 04 Oct 2014
Photo: istockphoto
David Ratliff
Victor Cheng
James Mendes

Banks seek capital markets staff with business acumen, financial skills and a desire to learn, writes Chris Davis.

Hong Kong's capital markets, whether debt, fixed income, derivatives or equities, are renowned for being demanding and, sometimes, stressful territories, where professionals must be able to think and act quickly while remaining focused on key drivers for the industry. For instance, as good regulation and supervision are the hallmarks of strong capital markets, the strength of human talent in senior positions is critical to the development of transparent and sustainable activities.

Capital market analysts say last month's announcement by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah on how the government would amend various treasury laws to allow Hong Kong to become a more attractive financial hub, is welcome news for the industry.

Those involved in the capital markets sectors note the announcement, made at the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' annual conference last month, could also lead to additional jobs and expanded career opportunities, especially for experienced practitioners conversant with setting up and operating trading platforms and those familiar with regulatory compliance requirements.

Tsang's comments come before the expected launch this month of Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect. Described by Goldman Sachs in a research report as "too big to ignore", the mutual market access initiative allows institutional investors and individuals to buy and sell on both the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges.

Recruiters and analysts predict that cross-border trading on Shanghai's and Hong Kong's bourses is good news for seasoned practitioners and should create more job opportunities and fuel further momentum for the development of Hong Kong's capital markets.

The development comes at a time when mainland securities firms are starting to chip away at Hong Kong's traditional providers of capital services, which include hiring senior capital market specialists.

For instance, Haitong International, which is in the middle of a two-year Hong Kong expansion plan, last year added derivatives, fixed income and equity capabilities to its capital service offerings. The expansion involved recruiting about 20 seasoned professionals to work in each division. The firm says it has plans to grow headcount by recruiting an additional 40 experienced capital market professionals before the end of the year.

As an established part of its Asia operations, Citi Markets and Securities Services is a global business that provides corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of capital financial services and products. Last month, in Citigroup's filings to regulators in the US, the bank announced revenues of US$15 billion across all of its Asian activities, accounting for the largest revenue generator outside of the US.

According to David Ratliff, managing director and head of investor sales and relationship management at Citi Markets and Securities Services Asia, Citi's capital market business covers a range of different professional roles. These include sales, trading, structuring and research, which offer a range of professional opportunities and require different skills, characteristics and levels of experience.

"Professionals from all backgrounds can succeed at Citi," says Ratcliff, stressing that delivering client services is as important as finance abilities. "We are looking for more than someone who can do the job."

Ratcliff adds that while excellent analytical and quantitative skills are a prerequisite, equally important for his department is building a strong culture through teamwork, ambition and a drive towards excellence. "We are always looking for those who will embrace and continue to build our culture and their own careers," he says.

Crucial to any capital role, he adds, is a strong sense of business acumen, the ability to develop sound financial and quantitative skills, and a desire to learn and succeed in a dynamic environment.

"At the heart of what we do are our clients: how can we identify opportunities for them, help them manage risks and deliver on their needs," he says, adding that the business is about finding solutions and knowing how to navigate a complex landscape.

Employees within the markets and securities business stay relevant by following the evolution of financial markets and global news on a day-to-day basis, he says. This involves learning by doing, and adapting to new opportunities and challenges as they present themselves. "The landscape for financial products and services is constantly changing," he says.

Whether it's the rise of China as an engine of global growth, new companies promoting new technologies like cloud computing or 3D printing, or the increased demand for long-term savings products, professionals need to be up-to-date with developments to help clients tap opportunities.

Victor Cheng, who joined Citi as a management associate in 2010 from the University of Toronto and now works as a foreign exchange structured product specialist, says part of the reason he chose to begin his career with Citi is the high level of investment in junior talent.

"Citi runs very strong internship, analyst and associate programmes," Cheng says. He explains how programmes are supported by senior management, giving juniors a lot of exposure to business leaders from day one. Formal and informal training and development helps new joiners to achieve impact right away, he adds.

James Mendes, Citi managing director and head of recruitment for Asia-Pacific, says university students and recent graduates can gain an insight into the industry via one of Citi's 10-week summer internship programmes. For suitable candidates, he says, Citi also offers full-time analyst and associate programmes, which begin in the autumn each year.

"We also host a series of information sessions and participate in campus recruiting activities within Asia and globally, where students have the opportunity to learn more directly from Citi's professionals," Mendes says.

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