Global financial firms including Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and Fidelity International are poised to add hundreds of staff in China this year as they look to take advantage of the opening up of its $40 trillion financial sector.
Beijing in the last one-and-a-half years stepped up the pace of liberalisation mainly as part of a trade deal with the United States, and allowed foreigners to fully own their local ventures in areas including investment banking and asset management.
After having won regulatory approval to raise holdings and dealt with the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Western firms are now readying plans to boost their onshore presence, representatives and headhunters said.
Foreign financial firms have long coveted a bigger presence in China, and their expansion comes against the backdrop of a revival in its economy, increased onshore deal activities, and a rapid pace of wealth creation.
Goldman is leading the charge of the Wall Street banks operating in China - the first to move towards taking full ownership of its securities business after it was fully opened up to foreigners last April.
It aims to hire 70 staff in China in 2021, a Goldman spokesman said, as it seeks to double headcount to 600 by 2024. The bank has about 400 staff now and the new hiring round will target investment bankers, brokers, analysts and technology staff.
Fidelity tripled its office space in Shanghai in September to accommodate a fast-growing workforce as it prepares to launch its wholly owned mutual fund unit after China scrapped foreign ownership caps in the sector last year.
The fund manager plans to expand its workforce to about 100 people in China this year, not including its operation and technology centre in Dalian, the company told Reuters. That compares with just 45 people at the start of 2020.
"We hope to hire high-end talents with both global perspective and local insight, which is in short supply in the current market," it said.
BlackRock, which is setting up a 51%-controlled wealth management venture with Temasek Holdings and China Construction Bank Corp in China, is hiring at least a dozen senior roles for the business, according to global recruiting site Glassdoor.
Vacancies include vice president of trading, vice president of marketing strategy, head of risk and quantitative analysis and fund operation manager, according to newly posted job ads over the past month.
BlackRock declined to comment.
Besides opening up of its financial sectors for foreigners, Beijing also initiated a slew of reforms in the last couple of years across capital markets, asset management and insurance businesses, boosting the earnings prospects of Western firms.
That has also resulted in increased activities in the Chinese financial market - Shanghai's Nasdaq-style STAR Market was ranked fourth last year in the global bourses league table with $20.3 billion worth of deals in 2020, according to Refinitiv.
The hiring plans have raised the prospect of a talent war with most looking to raid other foreign firms in China. Some of them are also looking to tap into their existing staff in other locations to build out their China workforce.
Goldman, for example, is planning to hire domestically while also tapping overseas talent networks to find the 70 new staff, the spokesman said.
UBS China country head David Chin said the jostle to hire staff by Western financial firms had not only triggered a talent war but meant banks had to work hard to stop their staff being poached by rivals.
UBS said in January it was planning to double its investment banking workforce in three to five years.
"Of course, we regularly transfer employees from Hong Kong to China but it needs to be done in a measured way. Many Hong Kong employees are not the best fit for mainland China, so the number of prospective candidates is limited," Chin said.