Wall Street's frustrate Chinese bankers heading back home
For Shiwei Zhou, it was partly the sense of obligation toward after-work drinks and talk of ice hockey. William Su felt his career was stuck after four years in the same role. QJ Guo wanted to be near his parents as they age. All three are among the many Chinese who came to the U.S. to study business, find work and make salaries beyond reach at home and are now headed in the opposite direction.
As U.S. firms have cut bonuses and positions, and China's sector explodes in sophistication and pay, some are migrating back. And while this may seem like an odd moment to repatriate, given the mounting financial jitters back home, two forces are driving the move: the fact that many feel they're hitting a bamboo ceiling in the U.S. and the belief that Chinese growth, while slowing, is shifting into areas that will benefit bankers.
"China has a huge demand for good brains as the labor-intensive economy is behind us," said Cao Huining, professor of finance at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. "A lot of people see better career paths in China than in the U.S., where they probably could just make a mediocre living."
The movement is such a widespread phenomenon that the Chinese have a moniker for the returnees, Hai Gui, or "sea turtles." In Mandarin, the phrase means "return across the sea" and sounds like the animal's name.
The turtles first started swimming back in 2008 when Wall Street erupted in crisis. They were prized for their understanding of the nuances of Chinese culture as well as Western practices that helped overseas expansion. And with the government pushing for reforms, some joined China's financial regulators. But the latest round of returns is different. With the government encouraging entrepreneurship to drive growth, China's financial markets are now seen as competitive. Venture capitalists poured a record $37 billion into China last year. This has led to the cre- ation of some of the world's most-valuable startups, including smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi Corp. and peer-to-peer lender Lu.com, officially called Shanghai Lujiazui International Financial Asset Exchange Co. The International Monetary Fund recently added the yuan to its basket of reserve currencies, joining the dollar, euro, pound and yen, so Chinese lenders are also scrambling to strengthen their trading desks.