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Why the most exhausting banking jobs are in APAC

It's something of a trope in banking to say that you work harder than anyone else. On this site at various times, French bankers have made the claim, as have German bankers, as have French bankers who worked in London in the 1980s. But when bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore complain of their unusually hard work, it may not be without reason. Asia Pacific banking jobs are honestly hard.

Craig Coben, the former co-head of global capital markets for APAC at Bank of America, explains what makes them so grueling. "When you’re working out of Hong Kong as the financial centre for APAC, it’s a very different experience to working out of the US or Europe," he says. "The markets in APAC are extremely heterogeneous without much in common, and you need an awareness of local issues and a critical mass of people in each individual market like Australia, Japan or India."

Coben spent most of his career in London, before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. He says Hong Kong jobs are more complex because senior bankers in APAC need to be of aware of the dynamics of the different markets they cover. "There’s a lot of common practice now across European jurisdictions – client presentations are made similarly, and European regulatory regimes are comparable, for example."

The pandemic and Hong Kong's strict lockdown absolved Coben of the need to travel while he was in HK, but in normal times he says APAC bankers also have one of the world's most exhausting schedules. " Traveling from India to Australia takes 14 hours. It’s similar to Europe, but much more intense. In Europe the markets are more similar and the distances are smaller," he observes. 

And even when you're not travelling, there are the calls - particularly when you work for a US bank. "You will typically have very late night colleagues with New York or with the West Coast of America, and you need to be very flexible on your availability. Working in banking has never been a 9-5 job, but it’s much more intense in Asia because of the time difference," Coben adds.

By comparison, London bankers especially have it comparatively easy. They don't have to travel to Europe as much as in the past, and they can talk to both Asia and New York during normal working hours. ✨

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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