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Devonf

Master's degree to begin my career in China

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Devonf

I'm interested in pursuing my master's degree in China in order to launch my career. I'm interested in working for a public accounting firm or a major bank. I have a bachelor's degree in accounting from a good university in the UK but I found it impossible to find employment or an internship there or in my home country in Canada. I am thinking of applying to an English language master's program in finance at Nottingham Ningbo, Renmin University or University of International Business and Economics. These are all target schools for the Big 4 accounting firms and banks which I want to work for. I understand that these accounting firms prefer not to hire foreigners for their audit practices. I want to work in transaction advisory. My Chinese language abilities are at a beginner level but I'm studying very hard and have a Chinese boyfriend/friends and can partially immerse myself in Canada. I wouldn't be fluent by the time I graduate but I believe I'll be proficient given the speed at which I'm learning. 

Can anyone tell me if this plan is even possible or am I delusional? I am more than willing to work in Hong Kong as I've heard the Big 4 operate mainly in English there. I just want to know if doing my Master's in China will allow me to secure a career launching job even if I'm not 100% fluent in the language. Thanks in advance if anyone can give me advice.

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thechamp

The Big 4 operate a mandarin language stream that starts in the UK but ends with a year in China. It's audit though and you won't be able to work in audit in China unless you're a PRC citizen. If you want to work front office in financial services, you also won't be able to do this in mainland China. It's actually illegal unless you're a PRC citizen. Hong Kong might be an option. What a lot of young grads do when they work in finance or other professional services in China is work for smaller consultancy services.

You could probably get a professional job with some hardcore Chinese study (probably about 2 years and an HSK 5 or 6) but you'll still have a sketchy position and be messing around with visas all the time etc. You'll be bouncing between F visas and constantly worried you're going to get caught working illegally. I have a friend who did his MBA at HKU and now works at HSBC in HK. That's not possible on the mainland though.

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icebear

If your goal is working in China Chinese matters more than a masters degree, and a good global masters would be better than a local masters. Its a tough market for new entrants, with most taking a string of low paid internships for a year or two before a small share get a real position and the remainder fizzle out and go back home (albeit with experience that looks good on a CV). 

 

Do you have an idea why you want to work in this field in China? Have you spent significant time in China before? It's a pretty massive career decision/investment, so don't make it lightly. 

 

I've been here on and off for 10 years and its been good to me, but a lot of it is luck. Many others along the way either found out they didn't like it after investing all that effort, or couldn't find a position that matched their goals. But it is possible.

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Angelina
33 minutes ago, icebear said:

good global masters would be better than a local masters

 

 

A good master's is a good master's. Quality always comes first, brand names come second. 

If you find a program you are interested in, and if things seem fine, you should do it. There are many degree programs in China that are as good as good global master's. 

I can't help you much with banking. I know one person from China who went to a good school in China, then he worked for a big bank in China, he is now trying to start his own business, mostly fintech. 

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thechamp

Icebear what kind of industry are you in and what is your position like in terms of long term financials like pension etc? Do you also have housing paid? I am looking to buy a house in the UK and then seriously thinking about going back to China in 2 or 3 years as a software developer....there are lots of jobs out there in DevOps Engineers, which pretty well what I do. I just don't know anyone who stayed in China long term and wasn't being paid via HK and effectively being paid a huge salary because there was no pension scheme. Also when you factor in you're not paying national insurance for those years you're also not going to get your government pension so it really seems like a serious decision financially. It seems you have to be really killing it money-wise for it to make sense as a move.

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NotChinese
57 minutes ago, icebear said:

If your goal is working in China Chinese matters more than a masters degree,

 

Agreed. I'm looking at internships in China this summer. I contacted IASTE-China and was told that my Chinese ability puts me at a huge advantage.

 

However, one thing that seems to have slipped by rather quietly is this - China is opening its job market to new masters graduates.

 

So a masters degree may be a huge bonus.

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Angelina
30 minutes ago, NotChinese said:

Agreed. I'm looking at internships in China this summer. I contacted IASTE-China and was told that my Chinese ability puts me at a huge advantage.

 

However, one thing that seems to have slipped by rather quietly is this - China is opening its job market to new masters graduates.

 

 

 

Or you do both simultaneously: a Chinese 授课 master's degree :D

 

In case you are thinking about becoming a Chinese citizen one day

 

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thechamp

That link above really isn't much of a loosening of the rules. From my computer science MSc from one of the best CS departments in the UK, almost no-one had an average grade above 80....which is one of the requirements they've listed to qualify for the 2 year work experience waiver.....that might apply to perhaps the top 3% of anyone graduating a masters in a STEM discipline in the uk. Also the masters student needs a confirmed job offer in China. How many masters students could get a confirmed job offer in another country, whilst finishing their studies? It's hard enough getting a confirmed position in your own country whilst studying!

 

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Angelina

There are enough campus recruitment fairs in China for a confirmed offer. (They use the English word "offer" when talking about this in Chinese. )

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NotChinese
48 minutes ago, thechamp said:

That link above really isn't much of a loosening of the rules. From my computer science MSc from one of the best CS departments in the UK, almost no-one had an average grade above 80

 

Yeah I noticed that too. However I think there'll be leeway for two reasons:

 

1. 80% is a B in most places. In the UK 60% is a B. The only nuisance is how it's defined by percentages rather than grades, GPA or whatever else.

 

EDIT: I've just done a bit of scouting online to see how UK degrees convert to other versions. Turns out even a 2:2 can convert to a a roughly 80% GPA equivalent, though there appears to be some variation . Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4].

 

2. According to a comment at the end of the article, the new ruling is being rolled out slowly, with each state tweaking slightly as it sees fit.

 

From the aforementioned comment:

 

Quote

" We should remember that the current information about the policy is at the national level. Some of the missing information is purposely left with ambiguous to give room for local governments to implement it in the way they see fit. Much as now, we may see some differences between cities and provinces. "

 

So the acceptance criteria may vary. Presumably the Tier 1 cities will be nice and tough to get into, while other places might be easier.

 

As far as getting a confirmed position goes - I guess people need to go down the internship route. A lot of interns are told they'll be guaranteed a job once they graduate, assuming they get a reasonable grade or whatever. Alternatively just start job hunting. In the same way a UK grad can freely hunt for EU work (but maybe not for much longer!), a new postgrad can now hunt for work in China, without experience, and they'd still be in with a chance of getting that confirmed offer.

 

Or at least, that's what I've guessed from this so far.

 

Either way, I think the fact that this policy is so new means it might be easier for those who wish to have a go, simply because the rules are still hazy and there might no be so many applicants at this stage.

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ZhangKaiRong
2 hours ago, thechamp said:

The Big 4 operate a mandarin language stream that starts in the UK but ends with a year in China. It's audit though and you won't be able to work in audit in China unless you're a PRC citizen. If you want to work front office in financial services, you also won't be able to do this in mainland China. It's actually illegal unless you're a PRC citizen. Hong Kong might be an option. What a lot of young grads do when they work in finance or other professional services in China is work for smaller consultancy services.

 

Go home thechamp, you're drunk and you don't seem to understand how big4s operate. You can't sign audit opinions in China unless you become Chinese CPA and the meet the related practical experience time. You can't do it in other countries either, you need to meet the national regulations imposed on accounting service providers, you can only provide public accounting services if you have the eligible qualifications. However, as per the International Standards on Auditing, it does not prevent you from working on an audit engagement led by a certified auditor. From the big4 perspective, it let you work on basically all levels from junior associate to senior manager or even director level. I don't think OP aim for being a partner at a Big4 in China... What do you mean by front office financial advisory? Asset management? Investment analyst? Investment banking? All of these can be provided by non-PRC citizens as well, as long as the engagment is led by a certified personnel in compliance with PRC rules. OP would like to do transaction advisory, that's basically financial due diligence and valuation/modelling. She can do it without any problem until director level.

 

@Devonf Your situation is kind of the same as mine was some years ago. I started to work at a big4 firm in my home country (continental Europe), after finishing my scholarship year in China. I'm a finance and accounting BA graduate from a top university, started to learn Chinese at the university. I started my career in auditing, with some contribution to the advisory department's Chinese desk. I was loan staffed to an M&A transaction services engagement in the audit season on request, the partner was content with my performance and at the end of the financial year I was offered a full-time contract. Since then, I have been working on M&A deals, as well as working on Chinese business development initiatives. I'm also a must-have staff member on engagements with Chinese clients due to language barriers, so Chinese language knowledge helps in this business line a lot, but you need to have a very high proficiency and relevant business knowledge to act as a professional and not just a boring translator.

In the past years, I have been in touch with China and HK-based headhunters, and had interview rounds with two of the big4s in China (M&A TS roles), and also with some smaller IBs. My experience is that it is hard to get recruited on a junior level, the earliest level where foreigners are considered as decent candidates is the senior associate level (~3 years of experience), but I got more calls and e-mails when I hit the assistant manager level (~4 years of experience). The problem with recruiting juniors is partly due to cultural issues, and partly due to inconfidence in actual language capabilities, meaning you are much like a question mark to the employer compared to a native candidate.

I suggest you to try to work at a big4 in your home country, get some years of experience, and after reaching assistant manager or manager level, request a secondment placement to the Chinese office. Given that you speak the language on a high level, had exposure to Chinese clients in your home office, and have an international finance/accounting qualification (ACCA/CFA, but rather both), it will be quite straightforward to be seconded to one of the Chinese offices and should pose absolutely no problems. One of my colleagues spent more than two years in our Beijing office working on M&A deals in a form of secondment, and now we're currently organizing a secondment for me in SH, starting the next financial year.

 

Some things to note:

- It's quite rare to be directly recruited to M&A TS as a graduate with no former controlling/auditing experience, even though you're a top university's graduate, simply due to the fact that junior auditors are recruited in significantly higher numbers than TS juniors. The normal and quite well-laid path is doing audit for at the very least a year (intern/junior) and then try to request a transfer to the M&A team. It's not automatic and you should have very good ratings. Some network from the TS team also helps, so do a lot of networking with the TS senior associates, assistant managers and managers during corporate events. If you can't get a transfer at your member firm, you can still apply for a junior role at another competitor, you will have a clear edge over fresh graduates.

- Be serious with the qualifications, the Chinese love it. ACCA or CIMA is the most useful for TS, CFA or CFQ also helps, FRM and other risk related papers are nice to have, depending on which industry you want to work in. MBA is less useful the big4 corporate finance jobs, but it still helps if your qualification is a well-known business school.

- Good Chinese report writing skills are essential in order to work on Chinese client engagements. However, taken that you're native in English, you will most likely work for international accounts and assist China-based transactions and report to the client's global M&A team, full of laowais.

- The Chinese big4s all include their Hong Kong and Macau offices as well, but there are special rules for recruiting there. Hong Kong working visa is hard to get for foreign finance professionals below big4 manager level, so that is only available after you get some years under your belt (~5-6 years). And just a note: HK packages are somewhat worse than mainland ones, and a Mandarin/English combination is sometimes not enough to seize a job. I was running for a manager role at a big4 in HK, and they didn't like that I can't speak Cantonese, something the HR girl didn't tell me in the first two rounds :)

- I don't think you need to do an English-taught Master's degree in China. Even bigger waste of time than doing a master in Chinese. You didn't specify why is it impossible to get an internship at your home country, taken that you graduated from a good university. It's not too hard to get recruited in an audit role at a big4 firm, especially not in the hiring season which is to come in the following months. Boost your CV, use LinkedIn, apply for jobs, gain some interview experience (even if not with top-tier accounting firm/bank would help a lot!). Based on your brief post, I don't think you have any problems with your professional background, you just lack experience, which is normal for your current situation. I'm afraid even a master's from China would not help you much, especially if you're aiming for TS roles.

 

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thechamp

LOL I wish I were drunk but it's still quite early where I am. All I am repeating is what I've been told by people working in greater China, and things I've seen myself. I have friends in international law firms too, with Chinese experience who say that you can work as a legal consultant but you're not actually a lawyer and you can't even do litigation in court. In my experience I've seen IT and techy people working ok in China, and all sorts of engineers....but financial and legal stuff seems basically off limits other than in consultancy type roles, where you're going to be in a grey area legally with regards your visa. There is a mandarin language scheme at one of the big 4! I'm pretty sure it's required that you're PRC citizen though. 

I also was told that any front office role was impossible in a bank. 'In a bank'. You might be referring to consultancy services providing advice similar to what a bank might provide on certain deals, but you can't work at a bank in China. 

 

TBH your experience seems to be mirroring what I'm saying - it's actually better to head to HK for these kinds of careers (in financial services). 

I have never heard of any foreigner qualifying as an accountant in China with their equivalent of ACA or whatever they have. Can you imagine how difficult those exams would be in Chinese!? What would be the point?!

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ZhangKaiRong

Actually, there are some foreigner CICPAs, but don't really know whether they got their qualification via passing all module exams or used any bilateral schemes of their respective international qualification (but to my understanding, no shortcuts is allowed, at least not for ACCAs/US CPAs/Australian CPAs). I also have it on my list, but don't know whether I will have the motivation after being an ACCA/CFA. But again, working in audit at a big4 does not require you to be a qualified accountant of the respective country you're working in, as long as the audit engagement team is led by a qualified accountant, which is the partner. If someone wants to be an audit partner in China, then sure, he/she needs to be qualified eventually. The road to partnership often takes 14-16 years, so there is definitely time for obtaining the qualification. The question is that seeing the high turnover at big4s, especially among the millenials, partnership is supposedly not in the plans of OP. And OP also mentioned that she wants to work in Financial Advisory TS, which is not as regulated as audit, and even an international qualification like ACCA or CFA is enough to be a partner, from regulatory point of view.

 

I didn't want to mirror that starting such career in HK is better. The package, compared to housing costs, is worse than in the mainland, there are longer hours, less chance to use Mandarin due to local clients, slower promotion route, and below manager level a lot of visa issues (they need to provide explanation to the consulate on why they hire a foreigner instead of a HK citizen in that position, so basically no chance to get hired, given the pool of talents HK business schools have). Mainland is a little bit better, but being hired there as a junior is also problematic (but I know at least one guy at our firm's Shanghai office who got hired as a corporate finance junior after finishing his finance master's degree at Fudan - but he studied at LSE as an undergrad, which rings well even for mainland Chinese HR people).

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samsaint83

Hi,

 

Thanks for starting this thread. Even I was thinking to pursue my education in China and this helped me out a lot. I even calculated my GPA and hopefully I'll make it.

 

Thank You. 

Regards. 

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HelloChina87

Hi! Although I didn’t grow up in China, my parents are from there, and if there’s one thing they’ve been telling me over and over again, it’s that I should focus on getting a bachelor’s degree in some well known English-speaking first world country (US, UK, etc.) because Chinese companies value graduates from those places over graduates from China. With that, I don’t think you need to have a master’s degree from China. Your bachelor’s degree will suffice. What you need to focus now on is really learning Chinese because only a few Chinese people can speak English well, and the same applies for people in Chinese companies.

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