Chinese goes into overdrive to attract ‘sea turtles’ home

Chinese goes into overdrive to attract ‘sea turtles’ home

New York: They were the “gold-collar" workers: highly educated Chinese people working on Wall Street. Now, they are known as “sea turtles" as they head home to escape the financial storm.

Nearly 1,000 would-be turtles in business suits packed the ballroom of a New York hotel last Saturday, where they pitched themselves at a job fair for opportunities in Shanghai, China’s financial hub.

Among them was Dong Shaw, who had been working on Wall Street for the last eight years after doing a PhD at Columbia University.

“The crisis in the US is very severe. We’re having a serious shock that will reshape the landscape of Wall Street," said Shaw, who is looking for jobs that match his expertise in model-driven stock selection.

Shaw currently does stock-picking at a hedge fund and has worked at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp.

Like many at Saturday’s fair, Shaw is attracted to China’s relatively unscathed financial sector and still healthy growth prospects. “As a new market, China is full of opportunities," the native of Shanghai said.

The worst financial crisis in decades has left the US economy mired in a recession since December 2007, claiming at least 2 million jobs so far. New York’s securities industry has lost 16,000 jobs and could lose a total of 38,000 by October, while another 10,000 could be axed in related fields such as banking, according to New York’s state comptroller.

Some cities and firms in China are quick to exploit the opportunity to attract back native talent. Saturday’s fair was led by the Shanghai municipal government and organized by about two dozen banks, insurers and securities firms from the city, including the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

New York was the last stop in the delegation’s efforts to poach back up to as many as 170 seasoned specialists in such fields as risk management and private wealth management. Its two earlier recruiting sessions in London and Chicago attracted a total of 1,200 people.

China is working hard to expand its talent pool and overseas Chinese, who offer both international experience and language and cultural skills, have often become an ideal option for local firms.

Of the 1.2 million Chinese people who have gone abroad to study in the past 30 years, only one-fourth have returned, says the Chinese government.

It’s been a tough year for many of the “gold-collar" Chinese on Wall Street. Some have lost jobs and most have seen their personal wealth shrink.

“This is an unusual time. For some, this is their first experience of being unemployed and they’re under enormous pressure," said Tony Tang, president of The Chinese Finance Association, a non-profit gro-up based in New York. “Now these Chinese companies are giving out positions and many are contemplating it."

To be sure, the Chinese economy is also hitting a bump this year as export demand evaporates in response to the global economic slowdown. Sagging asset values are another cause of concern, with the local stock market down about 70% this year, one of the worst performers in the world.

But, while unemployment is rising in China, there are still opportunities at the top of the labour market, especially for those with foreign education and experience.

Career International, a leading recruitment firm in Beijing, said there has been a jump in interest from Chinese employees on Wall Street. “Before the crisis, we were receiving about five resumes per week on average. Now, it’s two or three times of that," Jun Xu, director of the firm’s financial services group, said over the phone from Beijing.