Is it harder to make it to the top in banking if you're from Asia?

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When academics looked at the attitudes of expat bankers recently, they unearthed some fairly ugly attitudes among Western bankers working in Singapore to their Asian colleagues. The expats complained that the Singaporeans were ‘dependent, inflexible and un-creative.’ One complained to him that his Asian managers were, “fixated on what gets drummed into them three, four times every day by the newspaper, by the government”, and said they weren’t able to think for themselves as a result.

It's not just Singaporeans. One mid-ranking quant at a top bank in New York City who asked to remain anonymous, said his firm receives thousands of applications from elite Chinese students: "They're very good and hardworking -  when there are a billion people in the country that want what you have, you have to work incredibly hard to achieve anything, but they often have very poor communication skills beyond their bad English. And they're not very creative; they have a hard time seeing the wood for the trees."

As we reported last year, most banks are filling their analyst classes with high achieving Chinese and Indian students - and not just in Hong Kong and Singapore. Anecdotally, however, Asian hires are more likely to fill middle and back office roles than front office positions, making it harder to get promoted. "These kids are primed for MO risk and accounting roles, not talking to hedge fund clients," said the quant.

Figures from our own database seem to bear this out. At managing director level, 55% of the individuals who've recently uploaded CVs to our database are native English speakers - even though native English speakers only account for 41% of all the CVs uploaded in the past three months. For native Chinese and Mandarin speakers, this situation is reversed: Chinese nationals only account for 8% of MDs, despite accounting for 11% of the total.

Is this evidence of discrimination? Or is it just that Chinese speakers are still working their way through the ranks? Let us know your opinion in the comments box below.

Photo credit: Work by @Saigon is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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