With Asian asset management business thriving and many global asset managers generating more new business in Asia than anywhere else in the world, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that moving from the Eurozone to Asia could be the answer to fast-track your career.
Since we opened our APAC operation three years back we have not been short of candidates applying from Europe. Last month I met with the Asia CEO of one of the world’s biggest Asset managers and I realised again, the great discrepancy in the way this opportunity is viewed globally. He explained that while Singapore and Hong Kong were their biggest revenue generators not only in Asia but in fact globally, they only grew marginally in actual number of new people hired. Despite doing well they are still cautious about growing. The general malaise of the global economy means that even those doing well today are not re-creating the hiring booms of pre2007 period.
Local skills, local knowledge
This is only part of the issue. There is a clear demand for talent with direct experience of Asia as well as the local language skills. I reviewed the major people moves across the Asia Asset Management scene in last 6 months and this mirrors the trend; from approximately 50 or so senior moves, almost 90% were of local Asian origin or foreigners with strong Asia work experience already. Only 10% were foreigners – either without any Asia experience or, more often, internal moves through company head offices from other locations. Here at Funds Partnership, the last 12 months has brought one foreign worker placement without Asia experience. We head-hunted this candidate from overseas at the request of a client, having exhausted the local market for the right individual.
Why moving to Asia is not easy
Firstly, the majority of fund houses are now selling foreign funds like UCITS or alternatives which are manufactured abroad but sold locally, so finding the sales talent with the network and ability to connect with the local market is a key driver to their success.
If you are reading this from the US or Europe, and as a top sales person in your home market, you are considering a move to Asia but you don’t have the local geographical coverage, please think again. Just because you are in high demand in the US, this does not automatically qualify you for a top role in Asia. If you have worked in the heart of the UCITS business in Europe, still does not mean that you have better product experience than those working in Asia. You will be competing with candidates in Asia who will be as strong and qualified with the connections that matter for the jobs you will be applying for. I would say this is especially the case for the top sales and relationship management positions.
Connections, but not in the right places
I have often experienced candidates with wholesale distribution experience across private banks who tell me that with so many of the gate keepers for private banks based in Europe or US, surely that should help them secure a distribution role where selling to private banks is key – this is definitely true. Interestingly western firms already have good connections with gatekeepers in US or Europe but lack connections in Asia. Conversely a number of Chinese Fund houses have taken advantage of RQFII and have raised capital from US and European investors, however they still prefer to hire people with Mandarin skills. This is partly due to the cultural fit but more simply so that they can read the required documentation which is almost always written in Chinese – especially where products are created in China.
Asian talent available, and more straightforward to hire
Due to the rise of the Asia-Pacific economy and the simultaneous stagnation of the Eurozone and the US, increasing numbers of foreign born native Asian talent are looking to return back to their home countries, often as much for the home comforts of great food and weather, as for the financial implications. At the same time, governments are starting to increase restrictions on overseas work permits and visas, making it harder for companies to hire overseas talent and move them across, encouraging the (more straightforward) hiring of a local workforce. We are noticing many firms repatriating senior management level back to their respective offices leaving behind a legacy of better trained and qualified Asian talent ready to either step up or fill similar vacancies. These different dynamics when combined mean that firms rarely need to go outside of local talent pool.
Pockets of opportunity
One area which does seem to attract a good amount of foreign talent, is portfolio management. Over last 2 years we have seen a huge demand for fixed income talent particularly across Emerging Market debt with Asia or LATAM experience. Major players in Asia have found it increasingly difficult to hire in these areas and have opted for candidates who have been managing such markets from other locations. Companies will be more willing to go through the necessary permit and visa requirements for these candidates. Other areas which frequently hire foreign talent are private equity investments, particularly MBA graduates from top business schools being sought after by mid sized US PE firms in Asia and management consulting firms; finance and accounting, particularly Financial Controller/ Finance Director level candidates who have been Audit trained plus have in house commercial experience at a fund; and law firms, particularly fund lawyers qualified in US or UK sought after by Western law firms.
If your profile matches the above and you are considering a move, please send your CV to our Asia team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Advice for those wishing to move
Generally-speaking if you are serious about moving to Asia, the best advice is the same advice I would give to any candidate looking to move into a new area. Build connections but also build your knowledge from your current seat, and don’t expect anyone to hire you simply on the basis of your CV or a good interview.
You need to first build some exposure to Asia markets in your respective country in your firm. This would give you much needed knowledge on the region, but you should also read around about the kind of funds, products or jobs in demand in the region. If you could combine this with skills in the native languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, Indonesian etc would be a great help but of course learning a new language isn’t easy. If you won’t be able to do this, I suggest you focus on applying to international firms. Unless you know you have a skillset which is very valuable and in demand, remain as flexible as possible.
Know what to expect, and be sure it is really what you want
You should be sure that this step is really what you are looking for, perhaps through visiting the region as much as possible in your own time. I would actually advise this as working in Hong Kong or China is very different to Singapore and each offers a very different working day. As is often the case with a career move, research first. The dream of an easier work life and /or more financial reward can be just a mirage unless you have realistic understanding and expectations.