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Friday, 6 March 2009

Expat bankers losing jobs

LOSING your job anywhere is disorienting, but imagine being laid off when you work in a foreign country. Not only is your source of income, and perhaps a good part of your identity, suddenly yanked away, but often you lose your right to remain in the country.

Add to that the calamity of a collapsing industry and you have the life more or less of thousands of expatriates in banking and finance.

As recently as last fall, financial professionals who lost their jobs as Wall Street bled could hope for new positions overseas. But layoffs have spread quickly leaving a growing number of jobless expats with few places to turn and either stranded or forced to return home.

A rhyming refrain among laid-off bankers a few months ago - 'Try Dubai, Mumbai and Shanghai' - now seems hopelessly dated. Financial markets in all three cities have crashed.

Also out of date, the acronym 'filth,' which long stood for 'Failed in London? Try Hong Kong.' Many American and European investment banks have been trimming staff in Hong Kong as well.

About 325,000 financial services jobs have been cut worldwide since August 2007, according to the International Labor Organization. Many banks have reduced bonuses by as much as 80 per cent or cut them completely.

Because times were so good - during all or almost all of many of their careers - the weight of the current malaise is that much greater. The layoffs are affecting local bankers for multinationals as well as expats.

'I didn't think it was possible,' said Marco Wong, a Singaporean who speaks both Chinese and English and has a master's degree in wealth management. He was laid off from Citibank in January, just months after being courted by recruiters from Citibank, HSBC and Credit Suisse. 'It was quite shocking,' he said.

While there are no reliable figures on the number of expatriate bankers who have been laid off, the cuts have been widespread. How these newly unemployed will fare will depend on a combination of personal and family resources, networks and that intangible factor, resilience.

Many expats return home after losing their jobs. For bankers still trying to cling to their overseas perches, career counselors are generally telling them not to move, and to use their networks to look for jobs locally instead of sending resumes halfway around the world.

'Stay put,' said Paul Heng, the managing director of Next Career Consulting Group Asia, in Singapore. 'I don't think there is a refuge anywhere in this world,' he said. -- AP

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