Career Advice Job Market Report

Go south: Southeast Asia is undergoing rapid economic growth and there are career opportunities for Hong Kong professionals

According to the 2017 world GDP forecast by the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, close to half of the top 20 fastest-growing economies in 2017 are the emerging Asian markets – India , China , Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Bhutan and Vietnam, while Hong Kong, a mature market, commands a growing economic ranking of only 147.

The emerging markets, in particular these up and coming Asian economies, will be the main drivers of insurance premium growth in both life and non-life sectors.

As a favoured regional hub for many insurance companies, Hong Kong is required to foster a breed of insurance professionals who not only understand the China market, but also have a good working knowledge of the emerging markets in Asia. The latter increasingly call for experienced overseas professionals – actuaries, compliance, IT, customer service and finance professionals. There are packages that can make working in Southeast Asia appealing for Hong Kong professionals – even if this is not always foremost in their minds.

One of my former candidates, Melanie, who was head of customer service in a European insurance company, was asked if she was interested in transferring to a second-tier city in Thailand. She was married with three children, and, like many Hong Kong professionals, she initially hesitated because of the disruption it would bring to her family – her husband’s career, her children’s education, not to mention adapting to a city with more basic infrastructure. She overcame the fear, though, and took on the challenge. Now, as the general manager of a new customer service centre, she lives well, having significantly improved her family’s standard of living. All three children are in good international schools, and what she cherishes most is her improved work-life balance and more quality time with her family. She now considers her relocation to Thailand as her mid-life haven.

In our placement experience, however, Melanie is a rare breed. It is disheartening to note how uninterested many Hong Kong professionals are in the idea of job relocation to Southeast Asia,  compared with North Americans, Europeans and Singaporeans. Hongkongers are not averse to the concept of job relocation to China or other developed countries, yet they are significantly more resistant when it comes to Southeast Asia. The reasons can be both personal and work-related, such as sacrificing a more comfortable and convenient life in a well-established city, concerns about children’s education, or the post-relocation job opportunities back in Hong Kong. It is understandably harder for someone with a family to relocate, as it requires a collective decision that ideally benefits the whole family.

However, I don’t see post-relocation job opportunities as a concern in Hong Kong. We have actually noticed a hiring trend for Southeast Asian professionals who understand insurance in Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam to relocate to Hong Kong. Just last year, we placed double the number of regional professionals from overseas in Hong Kong, compared to the previous year, many of those in senior regional roles.

Whether Hong Kong can sustain its status as a regional hub depends on various factors, key to which will be having a pool of talent with well-rounded APAC knowledge. For better professional exposure, and Hong Kong’s future growth, more local professionals need to embrace the aggressive growth opportunities in various burgeoning Asian economies  – and to learn about their business practices and culture. This will in turn enrich the candidates’ professional exposure and, on their return to Hong Kong, help the city become more international. 


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Going south is just the job.