Insight & Analysis

Have you considered working in China?

Published: Apr 2017

The development of the corporate treasury profession in China means that there are now many opportunities for treasurers to work in the country. What is it like working in China though? Sebastian Rieder, Asia Treasury Manager at Grammer Interior (Shanghai) discusses his experience.

The rapid pace of economic development in China has seen it transform from a largely agrarian economy into the growth engine of the world. For multinational businesses, the opportunities that sit inside the country have become just too large to ignore.

As a result of this development, treasury skills are increasingly in demand in China. This is providing treasurers around the world the opportunity to have a treasury career unlike any other by working in the country.

Making the move

This was an opportunity that Sebastian Rieder, Asia Treasury Manager at Grammer Interior (Shanghai) jumped at after he was offered the chance to move to China shortly after beginning his career in treasury with Austrian textile company, Lenzing. “I studied Sinology at university and have always been fascinated by the country and working in China,” he says.

Rieder moved to Shanghai in early 2013, after only visiting the city once before and admits that initially it all felt very foreign to him. “I was on an expat contract though,” he says. “The company therefore helped me settle in, arranging accommodation and transport. This helped me settle down quite quickly and become attuned to my new surroundings.”

A positive working relationship with colleagues is something else that Rieder states helped him greatly in the early days. For anybody considering moving to China, he advises that you begin to forge these relationships well in advance of your arrival so that you can hit the ground running and socialise with the people you are working with.

Challenges and surprises

Despite settling in quickly and feeling very happy in the city, Rieder admits that sometimes he is reminded of the uniqueness of China. “Even after four years, there are still things that happen in the course of day-to-day life that wouldn’t happen in Europe,” he says. “These can be a challenge and sometimes quite annoying. It is hard therefore to ever feel 100% settled in my opinion.”

Rieder also comments on the lively nature of Shanghai, which he says is both good and bad. “There are always new places to explore, restaurants to eat in and bars to visit,” he says. “But the city never sleeps and it can be very easy to get caught up in the rapid pace, making living a ‘normal’ or quiet life quite difficult.”

He is also keen to highlight the fact that within China itself, Shanghai exists in somewhat of a bubble. “The city is very different to the rest of China and it is probably the easiest city to live in for those coming in from overseas. It has a good climate and the air is not as bad as some other places in the country.”

A dynamic role

Not only is living in China quite different for those coming in from overseas, but so is working in treasury. “The landscape is constantly changing,” says Rieder. “Quite often new regulations are put in place overnight and require you to dramatically change your outlook and strategies. This is by far the biggest challenge of working in treasury here.”

Although a challenge, Rieder sees this as the great draw of working in the country as it provides numerous opportunities to learn, requires you to adapt and to think outside of the box.

“You also need to forge effective relationships with banking partners, perhaps even more so than in Europe or the US,” he says. “They are close to the regulators and are key in helping you navigate the business through all the changes.”

Understanding the Chinese way of working and marrying that to the overall philosophy of the company is another exciting part of working life in China. “You have to be patient when you ask for tasks to be done here as they often take longer to be completed than in Europe,” says Rieder. “It is, therefore, vital that you clearly explain what you want and why and set deadlines. It must be noted though that although tasks sometimes take longer, the standard of work cannot be questioned.”

Language barriers

One question that many have when considering a job in China is whether they have to speak the language – one that is notoriously difficult to master. Rieder, despite speaking the language himself, doesn’t believe it to be 100% necessary.

“It all depends on what you expect from your stay in China,” he says. “If you have an expat contract and will be staying there for a year or two and working in a multinational speaking English, it isn’t a necessity. But if you want to immerse yourself in the experience and take full advantage of all the enriching experiences that China has to offer then it helps a lot.”

How to make the most of your time in China:

  • Learn the language to experience China fully.
  • Be aware that the regulatory changes can come overnight and be flexible in your work.
  • Be patient. In China, some things take time, but the country has an amazing ability for making everything work out.

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