How’s working in Hong Kong?

Considering spending An3 abroad in Hong Kong at my American BB

I was just wondering what it's like working there. I know the culture is heavily influenced by the mainland, but if I decided to stay (at a desk not focused on the mainland), would it be significantly harder to progress than it would be back in New York as a non-Chinese speaker?

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Comments (78)

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jan 16, 2021 - 12:36pm

day-to-day life doesn't change much before or after the protests

in any case it's a great place to live for now because COVID is under control

can't say the same about NY or London

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jan 16, 2021 - 11:33am

One of my girlfriend's friends used to work for a BB in their m&a group. Apparently it was really bad that she quit before two years and had to check in to rehab lol. This might just be an odd case though

Jan 16, 2021 - 12:29pm

The intensity in Asia is quite different - you will realise that the technical requirements are much lighter but you spend more time doing bs client works.

HK chicks are cute thou, and probably the only place where chicks actually get turned on by where you work.

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  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jan 16, 2021 - 12:55pm

Low pay. Long hours. I think they have protected Sundays do to labor laws. 

  • Intern in IB - Cov
Jan 16, 2021 - 2:29pm

You still have to pay US tax if you're American. You get exempted on double taxation and the first 100k in taxable income after that, but then you pay full US taxes on everything past that, and that first 100k still counts for tax bracket purposes. 

Edit: Actually, I'm not sure if it's the 100k exemption is on the first 100k after HK tax or if they just consider it as the first 100k period, but I think it's the former. 

Jan 16, 2021 - 12:56pm

OP - if its a year and you have a ready line back home, it's well worth the experience. I lived and worked in HK for over a decade, and most of it was pre-protest (and was awesome). Just make sure you don't get stuck (unless you want to). I'd say its a great short term trade, even with what's going on now. Keep your connectivity to home base and make sure you have that ticket out.

Also like another poster said, it will probably be much less technical (ie. excel). I didn't do banking but Asia is generally much more client focused/social/personal in nature. That means work and social can mix, and hours can be long and there can be a lot of BS on that side.

Good Luck

I used to do Asia-Pacific PE (kind of like FoF). Now I do something else but happy to try and answer questions on that stuff.
  • 3
Jan 16, 2021 - 2:22pm

I speak two Asian languages (not fluently though). Almost all of my work (like 99.9%) was in English. The Asian languages helped for getting around the region, for surprising business counterparts, but most often for just listening without them knowing that I spoke it. Ie. being a spy. To really use language (like pitching, structuring etc), got to be a native (usually), and that's something I'm not. There is so much talent from native Chinese, Koreans, Indians etc...

In short managing life and day to day was easy.

I used to do Asia-Pacific PE (kind of like FoF). Now I do something else but happy to try and answer questions on that stuff.
  • 2
Jan 17, 2021 - 10:11am

How was the infra PE scene there, if you don't mind me asking?

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

Jan 19, 2021 - 6:35pm

Mandarin isn't even spoken in Hong Kong 

So wrong. Almost all of finance in HK is now focused on China, and that is an accelerating trend. While HK's main language is indeed Cantonese, that's not the point. For business, Mandarin is what is essential. Mandarin fluency is required for pretty much any client-facing finance job, and most of the groups are now being staffed by mainland Chinese people. HK people are being shoved aside in favor of mainlanders. 15 years ago things were different and the industry was more cosmopolitan, but now only mainlanders are desired. Situation is worse for expats than for HK people, since all HK people have reading & writing fluency in Chinese (essentially same written language except with traditional v. simplified characters), and most HK young professional people have at least a decent working level of Mandarin. So OP's question is legit. For day-to-day life you can get around perfectly with English in HK. But for long-term career prospects Mandarin fluency is essential, and actually BEING Chinese is likely also essential, language aside.

Context: I'm 15 years in this mkt, speak Mandarin, and have felt no compunction to learn Cantonese.  I'm better off investing that time to go even further in Mandarin.

Jan 17, 2021 - 6:18pm

Highly variable. Given long hours, probably best to not be "too far away" which is a very relative term when in HK. Almost laughably so. That said, a half decent studio/1BR will be at least $2k/2.5k and will be a shoebox and often a poor quality one, and I'm really lowballing it for areas in which most financial people live. One thing though, you can claim housing allowance for US taxes as well. So in addition to the first $120k that Uncle Sam doesn't tax you on, you can also claim upto like $100k in housing or something (this various by country so best to check).

I used to do Asia-Pacific PE (kind of like FoF). Now I do something else but happy to try and answer questions on that stuff.
  • 2
Jan 19, 2021 - 6:43pm

Depends where. HK is expensive, but cheaper than NY/SF. Buuuuuttt.... places are way smaller than you'd get in USA. Eg. I rent a 450 sqf 2BR apartment (small rooms, decent living room, North Point) for HK$15k/mo, US$2k/mo. Older flat but perfectly good to live in. Aside, I also own and rent out a studio in Yau Ma Tei (in Kowloon) for HK$13k/mo, at 350sqft but it has a big 250 sqft patio, which we turned into an outside room. If you're renting in mid-levels, Central, or somewhere else trendy, you can expect to pay muc more. 

If you're looking for a decent deal, leave the city center and take MTR to work, given how fast and efficient it is. Find a neighborhood you like, find a few of the local agents, and have them source a local flat for you. Do NOT go with some foreigner-focused service apartment. Move out along the blue MTR line (Island Line) and go East to North Point or beyond to find decent deals, or go west, or otherwise go on the red line to Kowloon.If you're working in Central that commute doesn't matter much, given how fast the subway lines are, so long as you don't have to change lines. I live in North Point and work in Central. Door-to-door commute is 15-20 minutes (haven't timed it). 

Most Helpful
Jan 18, 2021 - 5:44am

I'm an American in Hong Kong at a BB and have been here for 8+ years now. 

If you are a single guy in your early to mid 20s there is zero reason for you not to do this, especially if you have never lived in Asia before. Some posters above have mentioned that the work is less "technical" and you will not learn as much but these are all things I personally would not worry about. The gain you will get from living and working in a foreign country will far outweigh any perceived or potential professional shortcomings.

All the things travel, night life things below are pre-covid, but even then the city generally has done okay in 2020 but bars and restaurants (takeaway post 6pm) are currently closed at 6pm every day.

Social scene and night life

The city is full of expats from all around world including EU, UK, Aus/NZ, and Asia and so anyone with even little bit of outgoing personality will easily create a circle of friends to continually hang out with. You can also meet locals HKers as well to diversify social circle, obviously a bit harder but definitely doable as I have a good mix of both expats and locals (who speak EN, as I don't speak Canto). The girls here are pretty hot as well with a good mix of both western Caucasian and Asian girls. Asian girls tend to really like western guys (I'm obviously generalising) as I've seen some ugly ass white dudes with some smoke show Asian girls. The weather is great from Oct to to Mar but is hot and super humid in summers but it's fine as you spend your weekdays in the office. Hiring a junks a big thing here to over summer as well where you and a group of friends hire a boat and cruise around the coast drinking and eating all day, it's fantastic way to spend a Saturday day drinking and getting effed up with friends.

Travel

Pre-covid. I can't stress this enough with how fantastic it is to live in HK for travelling. You have easy access to Mainland China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and all of South East Asia including Singapore, Philippines, Thailand (Bangkok is pure debauchery), Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and I honestly can't list all the countries around you have easy and cheap flights to. I've literally spent a Thur and a Fri hiking 13k foot mountain in Taiwan and then flew right to Philippines and spent my sat and sun surfing on some of the most amazing beaches in the world. Having easy access to these countries, on the cheap, and the authentic cuisine is just too good to pass up. You also open up yourself so much personally by getting out of your comfort zone in the States and learning to be uncomfortable in a foreign setting.

Professional (all this pertains to my experience at a BB)

I will admit that the hours in Hong Kong suck. Face time is a big issue here and is especially bad at the junior levels. Normal hours for most analyst and associates are 85 to 90 hours a week. There is a ton, I mean a TON of marketing and pitching and I think this is an endemic problem across all BBs. In NY, MDs tend to know their clients very well, have fostered these relationships over the years and are almost friends with the management team and the deals are so much larger with huge fees that the business model supports the ability of MDs to function this way. In Asia, banks are constantly ambulance chasing so many clients and many MDs barely know anything about their clients and so you end up pitching a shit ton to like everyone. The good thing through is that deals tend to be smaller, deal teams tend to be smaller and so junior folks are less of a cog in the machine and will often talk directly with mgmt of clients during a trade. For example, when I was an associate I held weekly project mgmt calls with the head of M&A for a workstream my team was running because my MD was too busy with other stuff and he only joined the call when we really needed his expertise. Also as a junior you end up doing a lot of business travel as many clients often like to a junior staff seconded on site so that's also a nice little perk which you don't see in NY.

COL

As others have already opined, flats in HK are tiny and overpriced. But you learn to live with it as you end up enjoying the experience of being out and about in either HK or another country. Western food is expensive as hell and cost 1.25x more in HK than you would spend in NY but if you go local (noodles and shit) you can end up saving a ton of money. In regards to taxes income taxes maxes at a MTR of 17% and capped at 15%, but as an American with worldwide taxes you will still pay federal taxes but as someone mentioned already, the first US$100k is tax free and the taxes you already paid to HK can also be deducted. So net net you will end up still paying less taxes than if you were in the states. I think my MTR was like 28% last year (vs 45% in States being in NYC).  

In all, I highly recommend you take the plunge especially if your bank will support the move. The regional is highly dynamic with China still growing very quickly and countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia continuing to drive growth in SEA.

Feel free to DM if you want to chat more about it, as you can tell I feel super passionate about this and I have grown tremendously both professionally and personally over past 8+ years of being here.  

  • VP in IB-M&A
Jan 19, 2021 - 2:04pm

The girls here are pretty hot as well with a good mix of both western Caucasian and Asian girls. Asian girls tend to really like western guys (I'm obviously generalising) as I've seen some ugly ass white dudes with some smoke show Asian girls. 

Are you sure it's not because white guys can't tell ugly Asian girls part from the pretty ones and think all Asians look the same?

Jan 18, 2021 - 1:37pm

FILTH, as it used be called back in the 80's.....Failed In London, Try Hong Kong :-). You may also want to look up the term LBFMs.....but probably not safe for work!

  • 2
  • 1
Jan 18, 2021 - 1:57pm

I've been working in Hong Kong with US BB for 10 years now. Offering my two cents here (wanderingwanchai has already touched some good points):

- If you are already analyst 2 in the US, you could try to ask for an accelerated promotion (subject to firm). Do you also have intention to stay in the same bank for associate and beyond?

- If you don't speak Mandarin, you are gonna hit a ceiling pretty quickly unless you work in a product group. It used to be the case when few local/Mandarin speaking people know really well on how to structure M&A or do acquisition financing, but over the years, the local talent pool in these product areas has grown tremendously and very competitively. Sooner or later you'll be facing a competition for VP/Director against a person who's equally skilled and knows the language and culture, and in particular when you are supposed to shoulder more responsibilities on client interaction and deal origination

- On average, many clients you will deal with aren't as sophisticated or professional as US/EU counterparts. So you may end up doing a lot of things that you don't think make much sense in a US context. That translates into all the differences you will experience in how pitch is done and how deals are executed. Well, that's just part of the cultural shock/difference anyways

- One really positive thing I wanna mention is that Hong Kong is not just about China - mainland. You will have exposure to other countries/markets in the region - Korea, Taiwan, South East Asia (a couple of different countries in that region), India/South Asia, and even Australia. The breadth of exposure is simply awesome (and in particular if you get to put on a business class flight (longer than 5 hours though) to visit these different countries. At the end of the day, Asia is very diversified, dynamic and arguably the fasted growing region globally, and it's certainly very exciting to be part of it.

- Hong Kong wise, it's a bit unfortunate in terms of the political situation and covid situation. It is what it is. For you, mostly things will be "as usual", as you are in the business of investment banking and making money. The city itself still very well managed, and has the strong backing (financially) from the mainland. With the US/China tension likely lingering around for the years to come, you'll continue to see a wave of existing US-listed Chinese companies coming back to list in Hong Kong, and many grown up Chinese companies raising financing or acquiring other businesses in Hong Kong/across the region.

Hope above helps.

  • Intern in IB - Cov
Jan 18, 2021 - 10:40pm

Tossing it out there - seen some commenters talking about the fun things to do in HK "pre-protest". Let's not imply that the protestors are at fault for disrupting the day to day lives of expats. It's "pre-civil liberties crackdown".

Controversial
  • VP in IB-M&A
Jan 19, 2021 - 2:35pm

Why do you get decide the national policies of other countries? If you're American, you should especially stfu about things such as civil liberties lol. 

  • Intern in IB - Cov
Jan 19, 2021 - 4:31pm

Are you a mainlander? If not, that's a classic Mainland talking point lol. 

To answer your question, I'm a Hong Kong/USA dual citizen. Thanks for your concern!

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jan 21, 2021 - 10:35pm

If you don't have a very good level of any major Asian languages and culture, I have to advise not to work in finance in Hong Kong. You will have very limited career path and exits.

Jan 29, 2021 - 8:58pm

Some pros and cons of working in HK

Pros:

-Low tax rate such that you make more than NY counterparts and (way) more than London counterparts

-Vibrant city that's easy to navigate via a top-notch public transportation system

-Proximity to other cities means that you get to work on diverse deals: mainland deals, HK, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Korea, etc.

Cons:

-Less technical work (especially for juniors) - less sophisticated clients than in the west and the market is much more capital markets focused (much less M&A)

-Renting a nice flat is going to be expensive. You would be able to afford a much nicer/bigger flat for the same price in other financial cities

-Lots of the work would be for Chinese clients so if you can't speak/write in mandarin then you would be at a disadvantage; foreigners tend to focus more on the SE Asian deals instead - but these days many of these deals are completed via Singapore

(For context I'm a BB Analyst in HK)

Feb 1, 2021 - 5:03am

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Feb 4, 2021 - 3:15pm

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  • Prospect in IB - Cov
Feb 5, 2021 - 11:28am

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