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Moving is more complicated than it looks.

Hong Kong bankers want to move to Singapore after hamster cull

An increasing number senior Hong Kong bankers are looking for internal or external moves to Singapore after finally reaching breaking point with the island’s quarantine laws, but moving is not that easy.

One senior banking source predicted that unless the Hong Kong authorities relax their Draconian Covid curbs, there will be an exodus once the summer holidays start in June as expats with children educated overseas look to return home.

Another senior banker said Hong Kong’s decision last week to cull 2,000 hamsters following a Covid case in a local pet shop suggested there is no prospect of relaxing restrictions, but has stoked emotions further “That’s what the CEO of Hong Kong is focused on – killing hamsters.”

But western bankers are also a dying breed in Hong Kong. One headhunter who works for an international bank said: “A number of my clients are very concerned now at their ability to hire or attract talent from outside the region into Hong Kong. It’s pretty much impossible.  Western talent is very much a declining species.”

Another headhunter added: “Banks are seeing strong demand from a lot of their staff to relocate to Singapore. You’ve either got refugees stuck outside HK trying to get back in, thinking of now actually just re-locating Singapore.  Or there are individuals in HK looking to relocating to roles in Singapore if those roles exist.” At the same time, banks like Barclays, HSBC and Nomura have been expanding in Singapore.

The problem is acute for expats because they still have to quarantine for 21 days, paying exorbitant prices for hotels in advance. One source says: “My quarantine for which I have to pay in advance at the end of Feb is going to cost me over $HK100,000 – that’s £10k for three weeks in a miserable hotel, eating rubbish food and with no ventilation.”

One banker said that Hong Kong’s restrictions are more severe than in mainland China. “You don’t have to wear masks in Shanghai and the cost of living is lower.” Another banker currently in Europe and waiting for Hong Kong to lift flight bans says he is actively looking for a role in Singapore.

But it’s not a straightforward move. The complicating factor is that the Singaporean authorities, the Ministry of Manpower and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have made it difficult for foreigners to make the switch.

Singapore has a small population and the authorities favour nationals when it comes to recruitment. One headhunter said: “For any role in financial services (or any other industry) that’s hired, you need to ensure the job has been advertised locally, and you need to show how many Singaporeans have been interviewed,  If you’re hiring a non-Singaporean you have to justify why he or she is better.

Because of the numbers, it’s easier to hire senior people into Singapore than juniors, but there’s definitely a trend in terms of focusing on SE Asia.”

But banks aren’t ready to throw in the towel because Hong Kong is vital for their China businesses and China remains top priority for their investment banking businesses – for now.

Photo by Kim Green on Unsplash

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