I Need You, WSO + Its Time To Move - Asia Job Search

AsiaHunter's picture
Rank: Monkey | 47

Long post ahead (will not apologize).

Afternoon Monkeys,

Long time lurker, first-time poster. It seems the flow of threads has decreased these months, but hopefully, many of you will read this / comment (even if just to complain about the length of it). First of, a bit of background.

I have for the last months started to burn out given the combination of (i) industry-standard long hours, and (ii) the repetitive nature of the job. Ironically, it has been particularly during days that workload was light that I have complained the most (interestingly, discussing this with colleagues has concluded that long hours consume all your brain power and thus leaves no room for self-pity/awareness - would be interesting to see your views below on this).

I digress. Coming to the main point, I have come to a rather low point where I have realized that, despite the high salary and the "prestige" inherent to high finance jobs, I am not happy with my job. The thought that of course I am not happy because I am still an Analyst (meaning I should just be grateful and shut up) then leads to me realising that when I look at Associates/VPs and above, I also don't want to be like them (having someone to look up to is KEY). This realization has to lead to a more deep introspection that can be summarised in: "what makes people happy?". What can I say, I'm a basic B*tch.

I digress, again. Asia, the land of the dreams (or so they say). For those who have read Straight to Hell, Asia occupies a special place in their hearts. A few days ago, I learned of a girl in Singapore (grass is always greener kinda' crap...I know) earning decent money (normalized for cost of living, that is), in a job that does not involve 12+ hours per day and weekends. Then I heard about another HK expat. Then of another one, and another one. Point being, Asia opens the door to some high-payed jobs without the usually-embedded long-hours (happy to be proven that these also exist in London/NYC). As a rationale being that I am, I wrote down some thoughts:

Pros:

  • More money (per hour), approx. same as main financial hubs in nominal amount (+ lower taxes)
  • Ability to pursue interests/relationships/whatever the hell you want
  • Nice nearby travel destinations (Japan, China, Vietnam, etc.)
  • Overall happier life (hopefully?)

Cons:

  • Not the usual career path (and for us monkeys that have followed the book by the letter in order to achieve the sought-after finance dream, this scares the sh*t out of us)
  • Not easy at first sight to get a job on the other side of the globe
  • Different career potential (no clear pathway to fund/PE/senior roles that many seek)
  • Incoming financial crisis
  • Internal debate about the grass always being greener on the other side is not always true (i.e. future regrets / if its so clear everybody would've done it...right?)
  • Still an Analyst so perhaps too early to move

Given all of the above, I come to you. To avoid confusion, I would need help regarding:

  • Best recruiters for finance jobs in Asia (think HK/Beijing/Shanghai/Singapore/Other)
  • Confirmation of my above thesis - still uncertain of me needing someone to tell me that I am right or slapping me in the face whilst shouting to my face "work is work, grow the f*ck up"
  • Success/regret stories of expats in Asia seeking the above
  • Any other related answer

Thank you in advance for your two cents. For those who will hopefully take the time to write long/thoughtful answers, know I will forever appreciate (and happy to have coffee if in London area).

Sincerely,
Your-perhaps-too-introspective Analyst

Comments (39)

Feb 2, 2019

Also VERY interested in the above. Bump.

Feb 2, 2019

Interested. bump

Feb 2, 2019

Bump.

Feb 2, 2019

Read this. Signed up. Banana-ed. Am in same situation...

Feb 4, 2019

Can't offer too much but I can say the expats I met in Singapore did seem genuinely happy with their choice, although maybe those who don't just move back home. I'm also interested in making a move across so would be quite interested in learning more.

I think you partially answered your own question as to if it's so good, why doesn't everyone do it, below:

AsiaHunter:

Cons:
- Not the usual career path (and for us monkeys that have followed the book by the letter in order to achieve the saught-after finance dream, this scares the sh*t out of us)

Other reasons could be family commitments, taking care of someone, wanting to be close to home/friends, already happy where they are, not interested in trying a life in Asia, etc.

I'd say it's a chance worth taking, you may regret it forever otherwise - "What if I went to Asia.."

    • 6
Learn More

Side-by-side comparison of top modeling training courses + exclusive discount through WSO here.

Feb 4, 2019

Bunp

Feb 5, 2019
AsiaHunter:

Asia opens the door to some high-payed jobs without the usually-embedded long-hours

The people you've heard of are not a representative sample. People in Asia generally work the longest hours of anyone on the planet. This doesn't change for investment banking. Every one of my friends in HK and Tokyo works much longer hours than I do. Even more so if you work for an Asian bank. Asian culture of conformity and deference to those older/more senior than you make it even tougher.

AsiaHunter:

- More money (per hour), aprox. same as main financial hubs in nominal amount (+ lower taxes)

No idea where you got this. My impression has always been that jobs in Asia pay less than their equivalents in NYC and London. Yes you will pay less in taxes. But consider that most of the bank offices in Asia are satellite/branch offices, not headquarters. This generally means it's harder to get promoted, harder to hire people, harder to get paid, easier to be bossed around by NY/London and generally a pain.

    • 5
Feb 7, 2019

Ditto this. Speaking from experience having worked in banking both in NYC and Aisa, hours in Asia are equal, if not worse than in NYC. Comp is slightly less but factoring in lower tax rate, net pay is equal or a bit more depending on bonus

Array

Feb 6, 2019

Massive bump.

Feb 6, 2019

Can't help for Asia per-say but can help for the middle east - Dubai and the likes.

Feb 6, 2019

Believe many of us would also be interested in this. Could you please talk about your experience there?

Feb 6, 2019

I'd very long and I'd be going all over the place. I'd rather answer questions than detail my experience there also for identity purposes as the market is quite small there.

Feb 6, 2019

Would be interested in opportunities in Asia and Dubai.

Bump.

Feb 9, 2019

bump

Feb 21, 2019

bump

Feb 28, 2019

Interested. bump

Angel Checks provides background screening services for both Individuals and Corporate. We provide Pre - Employment Background Screening, Post Employment Background Screening, Business Screening.

Feb 28, 2019

Where did you get the idea that hours were better in Asia than in London or NY? I've worked in NY, London and HK, and I worked the fewest hours in London.

I think you're just imagining the grass is greener in Asia, but it sounds like you don't know what you're talking about and haven't thought this through. Still, move to Asia if you wish, but don't do so because you believe you'll have a better quality of life or standard of living.

    • 2
Feb 28, 2019

how is you Japanese/Mandarin ? I lived in Tokyo for 5 years, I still have shit japanese...

    • 1
Feb 28, 2019

A few thoughts on your points:

Burnout/Unhappiness: Why don't you feel happy? Not belittling, just purely curious. Have you diagnosed it, exactly? Is it long hours, the way you are treated by colleagues, lack of exercise, etc. Is there anything you can change to make it better? Different approach to the work, better relationships with people you work with? I think often in life and our jobs especially things could get better quite quickly if you know exactly what to change to make it better and to take the necessary steps to effect it. Though that requires deep introspection that we don't always have time for, and it isn't always that simple. And as an analyst, that can be near impossible with the demands placed on you. I would recommend knowing exactly what it is and making that happen as much as possible. When I was an analyst, I made extreme efforts to workout ~4x a week because that made a tremendously positive impact on my well-being (and work product as a result). I also would consistently work til 4-5am on Friday night so I could spend the weekend with my family. Those things were priorities for me and giving them attention made me much happier. Also, I relate when you say you complain when hours get better. When you're jamming you don't have much time to be reflective. I always keep a list of things I want to learn better (transaction structures, modeling situations, etc.) that keep me engaged when it's slow, which seems to help.

Asia: Also echo the points above that if you stay in finance, the hours may actually be worse in Asia. And if you move as an analyst, the work will probably be as repetitive. So I wouldn't move for those reasons. But could you have truly unique experiences, exotic travel locations at your fingertips, and career potential (though more uncertainty)? Absolutely, which is one reason why I'd like to move back sometime in the future (grew up there for a time). I have spoken with many recruiters and would just say, if you are looking for the buyside, HK jobs will want native Mandarin abilities and Southeast Asia jobs will likely want a local (Vietnamese, Thai, Indo, etc.). Not to mention the difficulty in searching from across the globe. For those reasons I didn't move there earlier. But I don't regret it as I'm (mostly) enjoying life in a big new city now. But best to put out some feelers and gauge recruiter feedback. I spoke with a few names, including: Morgan McKinley, Michael Page, The Laurus Group, Principle Partners. None were particularly helpful, though Pinpoint had some decent opps there, imagine that!! The top MF PE jobs I've seen in Asia have still come through top recruiters in the US. I do think that as you rise up and earning power increases, Asia would be a pretty amazing place to live. If any higher up expats in Asia are on here, would love your views on the scene there and potential for younger foreign finance guys who want to move over eventually.

Lastly I would just say that your experience, outlook and happiness, could improve quickly by nature of your own decisions and by the passing of time (which gets faster as you age). You will rise out of the analyst years in a flash. Mine felt like an eternity (more like a neverending Hell). I honestly look at at those years as a miserable time where I found out how much I can push my body and psyche to the limits. I wouldn't repeat it but it has helped shape who I am and how I work. So learn as much as you can while you are in it.

Best of luck and hope you keep us posted.

    • 7
Funniest
Feb 28, 2019

1MDB made Eron looks like a child-play. Been back to Asia from New York for close to 10 years. The work doesn't get easier and the hours doesn't get better as well. The only good thing about Asia is a lot of women to have sex with. Listed below is a quick summary of corporate culture in Asia:

  1. Japanese - very strict hierarchy mainly because it is still run by major trading houses that dates back to WWII. Most financial service companies are still owned by those trading houses. Although they are moving aggressively into Southeast Asia, which is controlled by Singapore office, they are still focused on risk minimization rather than profit maximization. Good long term business partners to have but need to follow their templates.
  2. Chinese (Hong Kong) - former British colony, local Hong Konger (Honkies) are being pressured to perform by their new mainland China's bosses. In order to show that they are different from mainland Chinese, your typical Honkie banker is most likely resort to speaking English and boost his western education background. Similar to their Japanese counterpart in risk minimization, but Hongkies are most likely to resort to extreme passive-aggressive tactics as within their family units, women actually take charge of all the major decision making power.
  3. Chinese (Mainland) - every mainland banker starts with a lot of drinking. They focus a lot of principles and personal feelings and refuse to focus on steps or processes - unlike their Japanese and Honkie counterparts. Spend a lot of time on drinking sessions to set up framework agreement rather than binding contracts. Flexible, practical and pragmatic but you never know whether you get a good deal from them. The word on the street is that you can never beat the Communists.
  4. Thai - extremely suspicious of others. Very lazy to get things done - most of them don't want to leave Bangkok to cover other markets. Very comfortable and happy with their lives. Lies a lot in the beginning, fun crowd with endless KTV sessions, but once they trust you as a friend - they like to stick to things and very consistent. Loyalty is highly prioritized and valued like the Japanese but much easier to deal with, and flexibility is between (more than) Japanese and (less than) Chinese Mainland.
  5. Singaporean - it is like a loud New Yorker in the US with a bunch of people from the Midwest. Claimed to be the smartest in Asia but continued to be sandwiched between either siding with their former ally - US or the new rising power - China. A bit PMS like their Hong Kong counterpart but more liberal and open - if you can get over their Singlish accent. Your Singaporean banker is more like your ABC (American Born Chinese) bros, a true banana - yellow on the outside - a bit white inside - but tell that to his face and he will never admit it.
  6. Malaysian - if you find your Singaporean bankers to be too stuck up but you are short of budget to hire bankers, look no further than crossing the boarder for a Malaysian banker. More morally flexible in dealing with emerging markets, still more competent than the Thai but will get shit done. Less PMS than Singaporean, but you will never know what your fellow Malaysian banker is pulling up his hidden sleeves. Look no further than Jho Low who was involved in 1MDB scandal involving even Goldman Sachs.
  7. Korean - lots of swearing. Although very similar to Japanese and can mistaken the two for most Southeast Asians, they are very different. Koreans are known to be much more blunt and less refined. Perhaps it was due to Korean wars, and due to long history of corrupted governments and big business relationship during the earlier stage of economic development, my personal feeling with Korean is their extremely workaholic and brute violent. Screaming, throwing chairs and physical abuse at the work place is considered the norms.
    • 9
Most Helpful
Feb 28, 2019

I'll let other people opine on whether or not you should go. I'll focus on mechanics/reality of making the jump.

Disclosure: Worked in Asia in a family office/non-capital markets capacity pre-MBA, networked post-MBA in HK and Singapore, but opted to stay in Toronto and ultimately NYC. Also based on other experiences I've seen with friends / colleagues

There are a few things that should be obvious about trying to get a job in Asia, but I'll state them here for completeness:

Challenges (common themes for any international transfer):
- You need to network in-country to have a chance. You'll have to plan vacations around networking (and eventually late stage interviews) on the ground
- Having strong deal experience in your native country will reduce transition risk. Head hunters in any geography only have one equation in mind: interest = fee divided by difficulty of placement. Fee is usually a % of your salary (so if you're more junior, they are less interested). If you are easier to place, they will help you. If you are an analyst with no experience, they will have less interest.
- You need to know visa situations in each target country otherwise you will be dismissed before you even start

Advantages:
- Reaching out within your network will be relatively easy: Reaching out to people in Asia when their common link to you is not Asian based will yield high hit rates. Sounds like you are in London, but this applies to North American schools also. I did some schooling in Europe. When I reached out to a contact in Asia through my North American or European school based networks, I was batting 1000. EVERYONE will respond. Most will be as helpful as they can with the above challenges . 10 points if you show up in person (as per above).

Things to Consider:
- Can you get an international placement with your current employers? Pro is that this usually resolves any visa/networking issues. Con is that you need to manage the messaging well (telegraphs you don't like your current situation). Firms with strong presence in the target geography will be more receptive to a transfer (especially if you have a reason, or have worked with the local teams previously and have a good rapport)
- Have a good reason to transfer. Make sure your story doesn't sound too "Grass is greener". It's a bit of an immature stance and relates to my next few points:
- Life in another country is HARD. Unless you have friends and family there, you need to rebuild all your social connections. As a younger person, maybe that's what you're looking for, but don't discount the value of your support structure at home, being able to b*tch (and celebrate) with friends
- Timezones SUCK. I found that living in Asia with a 12 hour time difference 7-9 was the best time to reach people in North America. AM is breakfast/get ready for work time and PM is dinner/evening time for friends back home (and vice versa). You'll have to find your UK equivalent.

Looking forward to seeing what you decide and if you opt to make the jump. Best of luck either way.

    • 8
Mar 1, 2019

I actually just made the move to Asia (was working in EB M&A in NYC). There are a few things you need to consider before you pull the trigger.

  1. Local language - can you communicate in the locale of your choice? I have met plenty of expats in finance over here with varying degrees of fluency, but depending on the specific jobs that you are looking at, language skills may even be a necessity.
  2. Cultural affinity - you have to be certain that the cultural differences are something that you not only can live with, but that you enjoy. This can range from food to manners to knowing the history of the country you are going to. If you are a straight shooter and loud / opinionated about things, and that is a huge part of who you are, you are going to have a bad time here. Other things include the lack of concern about personal space in China, for example. You will get pushed and touched and have people having conversations in your ear. If that is something that you care about a lot, you will have a bad time.
  3. Sharks - this will be heavily dependent on the country in which you end up, but there will be a lot of people out to get you here. Passive aggressiveness and being territorial are very common here. Certainly, politics exist everywhere, but generally at the junior levels (this is obviously firm / group-dependent), people are pretty collegial and have a in-the-trenches together type of mentality. Not so in Asia, people at every level backstab and refuse to share information. The mentality here is that I will rise over you not necessarily by being better, but by cutting you down.
  4. Lack of professionalism - this is true across all sectors / verticals of finance here in Asia. HK, Singapore, Japanese investment banking tend to be better, but you will have to deal with a lot of people dressed inappropriately, asking inappropriate personal questions to colleagues, unreasonable demands and requests. Training and talent levels are also much worse. Be prepared for lots of inefficient people at all levels where you will be astonished at how they continue to be employed.
  5. Dearth of mentors - you will find a crazy amount of unqualified, clueless senior people running around. Some will own up to their shortcomings and acknowledge that their value-add are their relationships / network and defer to more knowledgeable people. More commonly, you will find clueless people who are convinced that they are the foremost expert on everything. Due to a combination of a smaller talent pool and the backstabbing that commonly goes on, you will be hard pressed to find a true, genuine mentor that will be willing
    to show you the ropes as well as be qualified.

TLDR: Conclusion is that if you are an independent person who is observant and easily adapts to different environments, you will be much happier in Asia. Hours are much less, and generally people are much more pleasant (I came from a group where screaming and throwing things are a part of daily life). To all those who say that people work longer hours in Asia, most of that is just junior people who feel that pretending to work and hanging around the office late is a fast track to the top.

Probably one last point is that be prepared for lots of very strange people. The average normal person in NYC would be considered very outgoing here. Most people here will most likely not share common interests with you, and even the simplest of interactions can become astonishingly awkward and stilted. You will also find that people are much younger than their age would suggest. Most of that is due to the strong influence of families (most people throughout Asia live with their parents until marriage, and even after moving out, grown adults continue to be heavily controlled by their parents) and lack of social experience (comes from being locked up and forced to study throughout their lives).

    • 5
Mar 1, 2019

i lived near Shanghai for a year (Suzhou), it's a special place. had such an interesting experience there

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

    • 1
Mar 4, 2019

If you are just "unsatisfied with your current situation I would not recommend moving to Asia. Until you actually live in Asia (no, vacationing at the Hilton in Phuket doesn't count) you don't realize how good you have it in NYC/London. I spent many summers in Asia

-Most large cities in Asia are extremely polluted and have horrible air quality. Going for a run will make you nauseous
-Getting clean water is a struggle
-In certain countries public bathrooms are filthy
-If you are anything like me you have built up a social circle and support groups in your hometown and and in NYC. Leaving that is tough, hanging out with other expats can get tough and can make you feel isolated
-If you are American you will have to file US taxes as well. Most people end up owing no US taxes but the paperwork will make your life hell, and accountants are expensive (look up FATCA if you don't believe, it's awful). This mitigates any tax break you might get living in HK or Singapore or wherever.
-There is little variety in your food and groceries compared to NYC and london. in NYC I can go to a supermarket and get any flavor of ice cream imaginable, any kind of meat, any yogurt, etc. Very few niche restaurants (Mexican, Mediterranean) serving quality food in Asia.
-Language barrier
-Finding housing, schools, etc. is a pain
-You can take exotic vacations living in NYC as well. Have you ever been to Trinidad and Tobago? Costa Rica? Bermuda? Vail? You'll miss that in Asia. You can also just take a two week Asia trip to cross the main Asian destinations off your bucket list.

Unless you have some family connections or you get a really high paying job in Asia, I would not recommend moving. You don't know what you have until it's gone.

Mar 5, 2019

I live in Hong Kong. Happy to help, if you have further questions.
To your above Qs:

  • Best recruiters for finance jobs in Asia (think HK/Beijing/Shanghai/Singapore/Other)
    Get on efinancialcareers, see which head hunter specifically is recruiting at your level, apply online, and then chase them on phone. If you're in NYC, you can do this after work.
  • Confirmation of my above thesis - still uncertain of me needing someone to tell me that I am right or slapping me in the face whilst shouting to my face "work is work, grow the f*ck up"

Well, pros and cons. Who the hell knows. Asia's great in many ways.
Lots of exotic travel for work and weekends, good food, many different cultures, low tax rate in HK and SG, amazing women, and if you want, you can get a live-in or part-time helper to cook and clean for you for next to nothing.

Downsides - if you're not a truly native speaker of a local language (esp Mandarin) you're f-ed.
The Asia experience may not be given full credit if you ever want to move to USA.
It's a smaller market than NYC so you may have to really poke around to network effectively.
China growth (and therefore Asia economic health) is slowing.

  • Success/regret stories of expats in Asia seeking the above
    Kind of difficult to compete against locals IMHO.
    That's a BIG PROBLEM.
    One that I cannot truly encapsulate effectively.
    • 2
Mar 5, 2019

finance recruiters:
Max Loomis/Executive Access
PER
Michael Page
Selby Jennings
Hays

Mar 11, 2019

Very interested in the above as well.

In a similar boat at the moment.

Mar 12, 2019

Bump

Mar 25, 2019

Very interested in the above as well.

Angel Checks provides background screening services for both Individuals and Corporate. We provide Pre - Employment Background Screening, Post Employment Background Screening, Business Screening.

Jun 5, 2019
AsiaHunter:

Pros:

  1. More money (per hour), approx. same as main financial hubs in nominal amount (+ lower taxes)
  2. Ability to pursue interests/relationships/whatever the hell you want
  3. Nice nearby travel destinations (Japan, China, Vietnam, etc.)
  4. Overall happier life (hopefully?)

Cons:

  1. Not the usual career path (and for us monkeys that have followed the book by the letter in order to achieve the sought-after finance dream, this scares the sh*t out of us)
  2. Not easy at first sight to get a job on the other side of the globe
  3. Different career potential (no clear pathway to fund/PE/senior roles that many seek)
  4. Incoming financial crisis
  5. Internal debate about the grass always being greener on the other side is not always true (i.e. future regrets / if its so clear everybody would've done it...right?)
  6. Still an Analyst so perhaps too early to move

OP - what happened? I will do my best to not add to whatever others have said here. This is my take, 12 years in Asia and trying to get out. I have numbered your points in the quote and have responded below as such.

Pros

  1. Maybe. Are you a US citizen? If not, then yes. Much much less tax than in the UK/EU/US. If you are a US citizen you still end up ahead at this point in your career but that goes away pretty fast as Uncle Sam starts collecting. You have to file every year, regardless.
  2. This is true everywhere in most big cities. Provided you have the time and willingness and its physically possible. Provided you have the time is the big question...Love skiing? Singapore/HK/Shanghai etc probably not the place to be able to pursue it.
  3. Definitely. Travel in Asia (once again assuming you have time - a big assumption) is pretty awesome. Especially ex HKG/SIN. Often affordable and tons of places to go. That said, London ain't too bad (commute to/from said airports aside).
  4. That depends on you and what you want. No one can tell you this.

Cons

  1. This is true as well. I have not followed the typical career path and though its been rewarding in many ways, it has not been easy by any means. That said, young people moving to Asia from the west is not uncommon. I assure you.
  2. This is true anywhere. Networking in Asia is much easier since its more social (work/social mix - that can be good and bad), and because its smaller. I'm trying to make the opposite move and let me tell you, its HARD.
  3. Yes and no. For senior roles you either have to climb the normal way at big shops and be really good at something. Or know the right people (this usually means being from Asia, marrying in, or going to the right schools/clubs etc for years if not decades). Preferably both, though it is heavily slanted towards knowing the right people. Another poster alluded to nepotism and rich families and inept senior people. That is 100% spot on.
  4. People have been calling for this for a long time. No one knows when it will be and if/when it does happen, what/where/how global it will be, though we will all be in trouble.
  5. No. Everyone is different. Everyone has different needs/wants.
  6. It's not too early to move. I assure you.

Good Luck

    • 3
Aug 27, 2019

Has anyone heard of this China PE asset management firm - Hillhouse Capital (HQ in Beijing)? Planning to apply to its Hong Kong office. Heard the pay is not that high unless very senior positions. But not sure if it is worth doing it with the current HK political unrests, crisis and economy downturn! And I am worry about such a big major move. Right now, I have an offer with a placement agent firm in New York city. Still thinking if I should take it as I have this desire to try working in Asia, especially Hong Kong to get a couple years of international work experience. And I love Hong Kong too. Any advice, insights, great suggestions much appreciated!

Aug 28, 2019
Comment
    • 2
Aug 29, 2019
Comment