Wall Street was once a proverbial cul-de-sac — a small, yet powerful, contingent of investment bankers, money managers and CEOs within a stone's throw of each other. Globalization has forever disassembled this original construct as the trend towards outsourcing continues. The financial industry has followed other industries in their cost-cutting efforts to help improve the bottom line. Moving financial jobs overseas has provided greater cost efficiency, the expansion of working hours and direct access to emerging markets.
This has birthed an entirely new paradigm for the financial professional seeking employment outside of their home country. Those who have recently been pink-slipped must engage in old-fashioned research before packing their bags and turning off the utilities. The differences in language, culture and level of expected compensation should be thoroughly considered first.
Why the Overseas Market Is Growing
Moving operations overseas isn't just a function of new capital opportunities; there's much more. A new middle class has emerged in the world's developing economies, particularly those of Asia and India. This middle class continues to expand. Consumers are demanding more sophisticated goods and services, from cell phones to investments. The world economy has been forced to rebalance. Companies rely less on demand from the United States and more on these emerging economies.
The financial industry is learning what retail manufacturers have known for decades: the price of labor in emerging countries can be significantly lower than in the developed world. This is important in challenging economic times. Companies have outsourced finance jobs for years, but many of the jobs were back-office operations, such as information technology and phone support. Today, more front-office, finance and research-related jobs are moving as well.
Where the Financial Jobs Are Going
In the past, the world's financial centers have been New York and London. Then came Asia, with companies opening offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as India. Now, the strategy is to move finance jobs to countries with burgeoning growth potential, and that can be anywhere. Major investment companies are moving key employees to the Middle East, Latin America and even Eastern Europe. China's explosive economic growth has also taken the world markets by surprise.
Multiple banking, brokerage and accounting firms often move top-level executives to such international locations for indefinite stays.
Getting Permission to Work Overseas
The first thing to know about finding a financial job overseas is that you must have permission to work in the country to which you plan to relocate. Work permits (for temporary employment or an expatriate status) are difficult to obtain, especially if you also need one for your husband or wife, as some countries allow only one spouse to work. Permanent residency status can be even more difficult to obtain.
In some cases, a prospective employer might have to sponsor you, and even then you can only work for that employer while in that specific foreign country. One of the best ways to get a finance job overseas is to work for a U.S.-based financial service company that does business internationally. You can gain invaluable experience within a culture already operating on multiple continents.
To find out what you need to do legally in order to work in a particular country, you should contact the consulate or embassy of the country in which you want to work. The U.S. Department of State's website provides links to embassies.
How to Find a Finance Job Overseas
Traditionally, the two ways to find a financial job abroad were to find an employer who will hire and relocate you overseas for a specific position, or visit the country in which you want to work and look for an employer who will sponsor your employment there.
As is often the case, word of mouth can be a great source of finding jobs abroad as well. Speaking to other professionals who are working in your country of interest is invaluable. You want to have as realistic a picture as possible before making such a move, and this picture is best painted by someone currently working in that environment.
What to Consider Before Moving
Assuming you can secure a permit to work overseas, you should consider a number of factors before moving.
For short-term overseas placements (sometimes called rotations), speaking the local language might not be essential; but for longer-term assignments, you should plan to learn the language. Research ahead to find out if you will be able to understand or be understood by the locals, and what the adult-education opportunities are for learning the language. You may even want to take a basic online course to get more comfortable.
Be sure to highlight language skills on your resume. If you do not have foreign work experience, include personal activities and education where foreign-language skills were developed.
Be sure to put your salary in the context of the country's cost of living. A wage of US $250,000 per year in London, for example, might not go as far as US $50,000 per year in Delhi. Consider the impact of income taxes, which can be either higher than in the U.S. or absent altogether. Be sure you know whether you'll be paid in U.S. dollars or the local currency, because exchange rates can significantly raise or lower your net income and are completely out of your control.
You should also consider non-cash compensation, such as benefits and vacation time. Most foreign countries offer more vacation time than U.S. companies, and this can make a lower salary more worthwhile. In many cases, if your employer has head-hunted you, the company will also pay for your housing, at least during the transition.
Some questions you should consider asking yourself are:
Will your health insurance be adequate by Western standards? Will you have to supplement it with an individually purchased policy?
And, what about flights home for the holidays and other visits — will they be covered by your employer, or will you have to pay for them out of pocket?
These extra costs add up quickly and can make a seemingly sweet compensation package taste a little bitter in the long run.
Those who crave an international experience might toss this potential pitfall aside, thinking they'd be willing to adapt to just about anything to live overseas, but that's often easier said than done. People simply don't work the same way everywhere, and this can be frustrating to someone used to a high-pressure finance job.
Different perceptions of time are often difficult for Westerners to adapt to. For example, U.S. workers tend to see the work day as linear, with a fixed series of events following one other. In other countries, time is often treated with much more flexibility. An 8 a.m. appointment might not start at 8 a.m., and might even not occur at all, which can frustrate U.S. expats who are used to tight schedules and a general sense of urgency to get things done on their own set schedule.
The Bottom Line
Given so many factors to consider, when you think about an overseas career move, building a list of pros and cons based on all the above considerations is beneficial. Engaging in comprehensive due diligence will reduce unexpected challenges and make for a much smoother transition. The best advice for evaluating an overseas finance job is expressed in the carpenter's oath, "measure twice, cut once."