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China brokers scout for talent as profits soar

Jerome Favre | Bloomberg | Getty Images

China's brokerages are on a broad-based hiring spree to capitalize on booming local stock markets and a surge in new clients and trading activity that is giving their profits a big boost.

The central bank's surprise interest rate cut on Nov. 21 and the Stock Connect scheme, which opened earlier that week, allowing direct trading of Hong Kong and Shanghai stocks on each other's bourse, has fueled an influx of retail investors and a jump in trading volumes, while a resumption of new mainland share listings this year has brought underwriting fees back to life for larger brokers.

In recent months, demand for staff from brokerages has increased by around 20 percent, said Chen Xia, a headhunter at Unique.

"Just this month, we've received four brokerage requests for employees, whereas before, sometimes there would be business, sometimes there wouldn't," said Shi Guangming, a financial services headhunter from Hunter W S.

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Small to mid-sized brokerages such as Chinalin Securities, Donghai Securities and Jianghai Securities are looking for analysts, researchers and asset managers, said Shi.

The firms could not immediately be reached for comment.

Official data showed Chinese retail investors, who conduct 60-80 percent of stock trades in China, opened over a million new brokerage accounts in November, up 280 percent year-on-year, after years of stagnation.

That has translated into feverish trading on Chinese benchmark indexes in recent weeks, with volumes on the Shanghai Composite Index hitting a record high on Dec. 9. The market value of the index is up by a fifth since the rate cut.

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With the improved outlook, brokerages are busy setting up investment companies, wealth management teams and asset management firms, headhunters said, all of which need manpower.

Haitong Securities, China's second-largest listed brokerage by market capital, plans to hire around 10 new members for their research team, said an employee at Haitong Securities, who declined to be named because she cannot speak to the media.

While Haitong is always on the prowl for talent due to natural attrition rates, staff movement across all brokerages has been much higher than it was last year, she added.

Haitong could not immediately be reached for comment.

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The annual salaries of junior analysts range from 100,000 yuan to 150,000 yuan, and their bonus is often based on how many reports they write, said headhunters.

Senior 'star' analysts can make up to 10,000,000 yuan ($1.62 million), according to headhunters, as their salaries are tied to commission earned from the funds they introduce to the brokerage and the points awarded to them by the funds they serve.

"The atmosphere is great. Everyone is really happy. Everyone is thinking about how to make more money," said the Haitong employee.

Brokerages are reporting surging profits, with China's market leader CITIC Securities ringing in 886.2 million yuan of net profit in November, more than 500 percent up on last year.

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"The little virtuous circle which they've got going is they're selling margin debt to investors who are then turning around and buying their stocks for them," said Thomas Gatley, China Corporate Analyst, at Gavekal Dragonomics.

Haitong Securities also posted its highest ever quarterly profit in September.