I interned at a top US bank in Hong Kong last summer and I was lucky enough to secure a return job offer. The bank asked me whether I wanted to start out in Hong Kong or London. I didn’t hesitate to go for Hong Kong.
I had some experience of working and living in London. I did a spring week at another investment bank there as well as a student exchange programme. While I enjoyed both of these overall, I never enjoyed the boozy culture that still dominates IBD in London.
Many junior bankers in Hong Kong obviously like a drink or two after work and there are plenty of bars and clubs in and around Central. But the ‘party-hard’ culture there isn’t quite on the scale as London, and (more importantly) there’s much less pressure to get involved in it. The attitude toward binge drinking in Hong Kong banking is relaxed – nobody really cares if you do it or you don’t. It’s not talked about much. It’s no big deal.
After just one spring week in London, it became obvious that my student counterparts and the junior bankers at the firm were basically all big boozers. But the stranger thing for me, coming from China originally, is how uptight and unrelaxed they were about alcohol. In London, not drinking (or being a moderate drinker like me) is a big issue and is frowned upon, especially if you’re in your 20s. People – especially Brits and fellow Westerners – will go to the trouble of commenting on your light-drinking habits. It’s bizarre. Why do they care?
During the spring week, however, I thought I’d just try to fit in, so I went out boozing a few times with my cohort. Not doing so would have meant being an outsider during my first experience of working in banking. It was fine for a week. I’ve been out enough times in Hong Kong, where many bars close later than in London, so I easily pulled it off while still performing well in my tasks at the bank.
But I couldn’t have faked being a big drinker long-term; it’s just not who I am. So I couldn’t be bothered working in London (where bankers and people in general care so deeply about how much other people drink) in a full-time role. I love working hard, but when I party hard, it needs to be on my own terms.
Mine is a view not universally shared by all Chinese students. One of my friends studies in London and he’s looking forward to working there after he graduates. He loves his boozing, so he will fit right in. How much liquid he pours down his throat won’t become a negative talking point in the office (because it will be a lot).
My decision to opt for Hong Kong over London wasn’t just about the social side of things. I think I will also prefer the M&A deals that I’ll be working on in Hong Kong, most of which will involve companies from China. I’m intrinsically more interested in helping clients from my home country, because I have more emotional attachment to their success and many of them are breaking into new markets for the first time.
Even if I had to work 100 hours a week in Hong Kong, I could stay motivated because I’d be working on a Chinese deal rather than one involving a Western firm that I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in. Being in Hong Kong will keep me in touch with China, the world’s second largest economy, while also allowing me to work at a top global bank. It’s the best of both worlds.
Moreover, analysts in Hong Kong generally work in smaller teams and get better and faster deal exposure than their counterparts in London or New York. They take more client calls and attend more client meetings, for example. Chinese clients are far less familiar with the M&A process than Western ones are, which means juniors in Hong Kong get more involved in educating them about deals.
Had I gone for the London job, I would have been working with more sophisticated clients, but I’d be more in the background and the deals would be more straightforward, so I wouldn’t learn as much as in Hong Kong. And I’d also have much worse hangovers.
Sara Yang (not her real name) is a finance student who starts a full-time job at a US investment bank in Hong Kong in September.
Image credit: XiXinXing, Getty