How to leverage on your CFA exams to break into the industry in Hong Kong?

I am from Hong Kong, I have just recently passed CFA level 2, and I am now registering for CFA level 3. I have never been a strong believer in the CFA curriculum. Honestly, I don’t think a patchwork of disparate topics presented superficially via the CFAI phonebooks would do much to enhance your finance knowledge, neither would it be of tremendous help in your quest of finding your dream job in finance. However, after four months of searching and failing to land a finance job, I was desperate enough to register for CFA level 1, hoping that it would at least be marginally helpful. That was a year ago.

Now, I am still without a job in the industry. I am not looking for a glorious front office position, but I am having trouble getting even a back office job doing settlement. Would anybody know what the finance job market is like now in Hong Kong? Or better, could anybody who has succeeded in breaking into the finance industry in Hong Kong kindly give me some valuable advise regarding how I should proceed? I am currently stuck in an online media company, and I have absolutely no interest in what I am doing. It feels terrible every morning to be there and I want to get out asap.

Any help is much appreciated. Thank you.

What’s your background? Are you an expat?

I am local, though I have studied college in Toronto, Canada. Graduated last year with a MSc. in Statistics, but I am starting to realize it was a poor choice of major, lol. Half of my bachelor’s degree was in Financial Economics.

Came back to Hong Kong after my graduation ceremony, and have been looking for a job in finance ever since. I am guessing that one of my fatal weaknesses is that I have no internship expereince at all.

I am local, though I have studied college in Toronto, Canada. Graduated last year with a MSc. in Statistics, but I am starting to realize it was a poor choice of major, lol. Half of my bachelor’s degree was in Financial Economics.

Came back to Hong Kong after my graduation ceremony, and have been looking for a job in finance ever since. I am guessing that one of my fatal weaknesses is that I have no internship expereince at all.

I would think that a degree in statistics would put you ahead of the game… as far as modeling etc.

My impression is that I am underqualified for a quants job; they have too many PhDs to pick from. And the sad truth is, a degree, no matter what you majored in, from a non-target school isn’t valued much. sad

From Hong Kong with loads of friends working at back office from Canada. Honestly it’s kind of a hidden requirement in Hong Kong if you want equity research, you need CFA (unless your expereinced), so most of the people your competiting with probably passed level one or two (assuming you want associate role, ER analyst and associate are switched). You’re kinda out of luck if you have only a stats degree from a non-target, since HKUST has one of the best stats + finance combo. I was talking to someone and he said that around 50% get into FO, since those in the stats and finance combo are like the top 5% in HKUST.

Also no one really cares about your internship experience in HK, since everyone has it. All you do is paperwork and photocopying most of the time and everyone knows this. Besides, most ppl who get into Big 4 internship have connections. I heard from my frd that ppl were asking each other who they knew. Same thing happened during my internship, except it was the partner who was asked us the question.

Back office isn’t that hard to get in Hong Kong actually. I have some friends who got Goldman and MS back office. Haven’t heard of many back office to front office though.

Best advice is to do something like audit or TS at Big 4. I know quite a few ppl who got into FO from auditing.

Can I ask which school you went to, since I know UT and UWO and maybe Waterloo are all somewhat targeted, but are like second tier compare to the top US and British schools.

Also kinda hard for you to land any type of IB related job if you’re in an online media company… No offensive why would I hire you, if I can hire someone from Big 4 or commerical banking or a fresh grad with a finance major. There are loads of these ppl in Hong Kong and mainland who fit those profiles.

i am a non-local guy here and I had much difficulty in finding a proper job, not to mention Front office jobs. I believe if you want a Front office job, you would have to be really good in your understanding of how the market works and you have a commitment for the job at more than 100%. And if you tell them that you are doing CFA, then they may think twice why bother with someone who will still be studying during non-working hours and may not perform best to the requirements of the job.

Based on my experience in auditing of hedge funds and private equity funds which are mostly dependent on foreign funds, people want instant results and if you are not good enough, you are out of the game. Speed of performance speaks nowadays. In Hong Kong, no one would wait and pay you to pass the exams.

I suggest you to be patient and pass CFA level 3 first, gain more relevant skills that can enable you to perform best.

For me, as I can’t read Chinese, I had given up hope here and planing to relocate elsewhere.

Like Dal pointed out, HK is a very competitive and difficult environment to get a job especially for non-locals. For me I am not even looking for front office jobs as most require Chinese (both Cantonese and Mandarin) rather I am looking for jobs in risk management (which in most cases surprisingly require both Cantonese and Mandarin) . I have been looking for a job in finance since 2008 but to no avail so I decided to take a low profile teaching position in a local university here. I have an M.Sc in Financial Engineering, passed CFA level 2, certified Professional Risk Manager (PRM) and currently registered for both levels of the FRM exams. In addition to all this I have about 7 years in Commercial banking. As a non-local, one of the difficult challenges beyond the competitiveness is that I cannot speak Chinese so I have decided just like Dal to look elsewhere for job. I have even tried Singapore which is ‘a more English speaking environment’, but the situation is about the same- tough as usual. HK is a very tough market even for the locals.

I am local so I don’t think Chinese proficiency is much of an issue to me. I really want to know what I am lacking so I can actually know where to put in my effort to improve myself, but I simply don’t know SPECIFICALLY what they are looking for. What kind of skills they see as essential in a candidate applying for an entry position? Whatever they are, I know I am lacking them b/c I am not getting any responses from the applications I have sent out.

Yes, I am from the University of Toronto. I don’t believe that the ability to score good grades in school is any assurance of one’s competence in the financial industry, and this is from a guy who got an overall GPA of 3.9. But if that’s the way they want to evaluate candidates, I shouldn’t be too disadvantaged.

Is it really that important to have majored in finance if you wanted to break into the financial industry? I heard tons of people with degrees in biology and chemistry got in, though those were in the years before Lehman’s downfall. If anything, none of the top schools in the states, with the exception of UPenn, has an undergrad program in finance.

I do agree that at this point, my best bet would be to switch over to a Big 4 firm first and use it as a stepping stone. I will give it some serious thought, thank you!

Well for fresh grad they look for school and grades equally. B.A. Econ/BBA is preferred for States schools. BComm/BBA, Finance/Accounting for Canadian schools. A&F (accounting and finance) or Econ for UK schools. You can get in with a random degree (biology, literature), but it’s gonna be impossible unless you’re from the top schools or have some killer internship experiences in the states.

Since you’ve already graduated for more than a year, you’ll WON’T be consider a fresh grad by any of the big companies. So it’s kinda a moot now what you had for GPA, since you’re look towards more as an experienced hire. I do agree with your statement about GPA really doesn’t show anything about financial competency, but as you know HK social mentality is pretty much grade and brand centric.

Find some local CPA firm (accounting). Since you’re not a fresh grad I am not really sure if the Big 4 are going hire you for an entry level/fresh grad role unless you have some sort of connection. There are second tiers (BDO, Grant Thorton, SHINEWING), but I am sure they follow the same practices of hiring fresh grads. Maybe you can try financial data/news (reuter/bloomberg/capital iq) or rating agency (S&P/Moody’s). Moody’s/S&P could land you a FO job in FI in the future. Not sure about Bloomberg/Reuters though.

If all else fails you could work for a few years then try for a MBA or MsFin at HKUST or HKU. That way you could get the internship experience that you wanted and you could get back the ability to apply for “fresh grad jobs”. With a high GPA you should have a decent chance to get into those schools.

Some of what has been discussed here is new to me.

Does this mean that a Stat+Finance HKUST graduate has a significant advantage over an MSc Stat from Toronto? I was always under the impression that foreign advanced degree had a leg up over local HK graduates, especially for quant jobs. Is this not true?

I am planning to do the exact same thing myself, but since this is a pretty big career change, if my prospects are not as good as I think they are, I might reconsider. Quantative Finance. 20 students a year. It’s the top program undergrad program for HKUST, so it’s not that surprising more than half of the student get FO (check career prospect. 17 BB type banks for around 30 to 40 students [top students from other faculty can transfer into QFin]) . HKUST is consider the top business school in HK. Also Kong U (HKU) has a great alumni connection within the industry, so that helps too.

They do prefer Ivy League and Top 5 UK school (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Imperial, Forget ;P) over local schools though.

Who you know vs what you know is important everywhere, but especially in Asia. You still need to meet the educational requirements, but cold applying would be difficult.

I’d try every means necessary to network–language exchange classes,, Toastmasters, etc. If people you meet aren’t in finance, just ask them if they know anybody and see if they could arrange a meeting. Become friends and build from thjere.

All the marketers tell me that Asians are exceptionally brand conscious. That probably goes for their hires as well as their consumption. I’m not in a position to judge whether that stereotype is true or not, but on the surface it seems highly plausible.

To break out of that, you somehow need to make ssome kind of social connection with people, where the personal connection can overpower any brand considerations.

Would love to be able to work in HK. As many others on here, I don’t speak Cantonese/Mandarin so it seems like I would have a very slim chance of landing something anywhere close to what I do now. I could learn Cantonese/Mandarin, but after studying Japanese (which is fairly hard, though not as hard as the formers), I think I’ll pass and spend my time elsewhere.

Seems like the glory expat days are long gone and most that get over there are through a large company in some sort of management role, tiny hedge fund, or a random gig like DJ/artist/restaurant or something…

OP, I talked to many of my friends in HK about this and they all say its just really competitive (def so at least for anything FO). You’re also in that unfortunate position of being +1 year out of college. You’d likely be gunning for an entry level position and the firms there already have a big pool of candidates to choose from; not to mention these candidates are going through a systematic hiring system so its tough to just break in (I had to deal with that out of college since I got injured really bad and couldn’t start my first job after graduation).

Just keep pushing man and you will get there someway or another. But really take a step back and decide if this is what you really want to do.

Doesn’t China have a 2yr work experience minimum requirement for people out-of-country coming in to work full time?

All expats are relocated to Hong Kong by their companies. I never seen an expat find a job by himself here. For overseas firms, why they have to employ someone to fill their top positions instead of relocating some of their best to here? As you all say, HK is competitive, firms has no time and money to train, that’s not cost effective here.

For small local firms, they need business. So what they need are salesperson. If you want to get a front office jobs here, go and apply a SFC license. No license, you cannot work in this field. You should find out what you need before applying jobs here.

And people here talk about relationship! If you have some connections, you can find a job easily; if not, you have to rely on chance. Just remember you have to compete with all the top performers in China top universities or graduates come back to China/HK. They have connections, they speak the same native Mandarin as their potential clients in China, so why firms have to employ you?

I would say if you can find a job in Canada is not a bad choice. HK is not for people who want training or gaining experience. Good Luck!

If I had known they preferred BBA students from Canada, I would have never done statistics and economics at school sad.