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August 8, 2009

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Fiscal talent, IT wizardry high on agenda

Howard Yan graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science in England in 2005 and set up a company selling electronic navigation systems in the United Kingdom and other countries. Pinched by poor profits when the global financial crisis hit, he returned to Shanghai last year.

Yan now works for Shanghai Information Investment Inc, a state-owned enterprise focused on strategic investment in the city's information technology infrastructure.

"I can contribute my knowledge in computer science," he said. "Moreover, the city's financial sector will become even more important after the crisis."

Yan is one of many who see opportunities unfolding after the State Council gave Shanghai the green light to transform itself into a major international financial center and shipping hub by 2020.

Financial services, one of the most important sectors in the government's grand plan, is expected to need a lot of the kind of talent Yan can offer.

The financial sector in Shanghai has a total employment of about 230,000 by the end of 2008, about 2 percent out of the total 10.53 million employees in the city, according to an annual report by Shanghai Statistic Bureau.

New York, in contrast, has a total number of 464,400 in the financial sector, 14.5 percent that of its total employment by the end of 2008, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

The quality and quantity of Shanghai's financial talent will have a direct influence on the pace of progress in achieving the city's ambitions, according to the Blueprint for Shanghai's Development as a Financial Center, a report by three financial professors at Shanghai Finance University.

"Shanghai should have at least 1 million employees in the financial sector and related industries," said the report. "We're facing increasing pressure as our business in China is expanding very rapidly," said Huang Qiumei, director for human resources at Standard Chartered (China).

"Our staff on Chinese mainland will exceed 4,000 very soon, compared with an initial 1,200 employees," she said.

"It's hard to say in which sector in Shanghai is most short of financial experience," said Zhou Lin, deputy dean and professor at the new Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance in Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The institute was founded in April with a six-year grant of 320 million yuan (US$46.8 million) from the city government.

"Setting up a structured method to allow enterprises and employees to develop at the same time may prove efficient for Shanghai to expand its talent pool," Glynn Lowth, president of Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, told a media briefing in Shanghai in April.

"There is still not enough financial talent familiar with international financial operations, and the problem lies in the shortage of qualified college faculties," Zhou said.

Most professors in domestic universities focus on macroeconomics and currency policies; few of them have experience in capital markets and corporate operations.

Balanced approach

"We have designed courses to better suit the current economic situation, and with professors having rich experience in practical applications, we hope we can educate our students with international vision," he added.

The college is expecting to graduate 500 students with master's degrees in finance every year in eight or 10 years' time.

"Shanghai must speed up the nurturing of financial professionals as well as attracting more Chinese and overseas experts to the city," said Fang Xinghai, director of the Shanghai government's Financial Services Office.

"It is not practical to fully rely on recruiting financial talent from overseas because our financial markets are not yet fully developed," Zhou said.

Standard Chartered is adopting a balanced approach.

"We want local talent as well as overseas staff to help our development," Huang said. Right now there are more than 300 staff from the overseas branches of Standard Chartered working in Shanghai.

China's capital markets still lag their Western counterparts, and highly qualified staff are considered key to closing the gap.

"Fostering financial talent and developing financial markets are both important and can be done at the same time," said Zhou.

For his part, Yan has enrolled in a postgraduate MBA course at Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance and will start his studies in September.

"I hope I can secure a better job - and also contribute to the city's financial services sector in the future," he said.


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