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Friday, November 6, 2015, 16:53

The great HK vs Singapore debate

By Thomas Zhang
The great HK vs Singapore debate
A couple walks across a bridge next to the financial district in Singapore on Oct 29. A sense of security coupled with an easygoing lifestyle makes the city-state more appealing to families, while dynamic Hong Kong attracts young single people. (AFP)

Singapore is small, but it is well-planned, has great public transport as well as numerous gardens and wetlands.

However, such order and discipline may come at a cost of individual freedom and dynamism, or so they say. What can be reassuring to families can be a little stifling for young people.

I’ve heard people say numerous times that Hong Kong — which has more of a reputation as a party town — is more attractive to young, single or even male bankers because it is more vibrant.

“Those who like to travel and party will surely like Hong Kong,” said Lesley Li, a Shanghai-based financial headhunter who works with Hong Kong clients.

But maybe this view is dated. Singapore is making more of an effort to appeal to party animals.

“How can it be boring?” said Will Tan, managing director at Principle Partners, an executive search firm. “I dare say that Singapore has got more world-class bars than Hong Kong now, or at least as many. Clubs? Likewise.”

Bars and clubs might be appealing to young bankers, but in an industry where junior employees are required to work 80 to 90 hours a week, career considerations are also key.

If a banker happens to be Chinese and can speak Mandarin, he has every reason to choose Hong Kong because of its proximity to mainland China. This is where the businesses are these days. Singapore simply can’t compete. Hong Kong is being positioned as the place to launch your career.

Patrick Lecomte, an executive director at ESSEC Business School Singapore, said that during one of his recent trips to London, he was intrigued to hear a seasoned British trader talking to a group of students: “Go to Hong Kong. This is the best place to do finance today. You will get more money than in London and access to more exciting career opportunities. If I were your age, this is what I would do.”

A long-time friend of mine, who has lived in Hong Kong for over a decade now, advised me not to go to Hong Kong unless I work in banking or real estate.

“The pressure is huge,” he said. “Everything is expensive, especially housing.”

If you want to live in a prime area of Hong Kong, an 85-square-meter property can set you back HK$38,000 ($4,900) per month.

It’s not just about housing, but the overall cost of living.

In Mercer’s 2015 Cost of Living Rankings, the consulting firm ranked Hong Kong the second most expensive city in the world, with Singapore in fourth place.

The Hong Kong vs Singapore debate has been around for decades, and it is unlikely to disappear any time soon. For someone like me who moved into the region only fairly recently, it’s interesting to be introduced to arguments from both sides, as well as to see it with my own eyes.

And where do you think my banker friend in London eventually ended up? He got offers from both Singapore and Hong Kong, and he opted for Singapore. He had a family, after all.

The author is APAC editor, eFinancialCareers, based in Singapore.

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