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Making it in the City of London, Chinese-style

By Angus McNeice in London | China Daily UK | Updated: 2016-10-31 18:13

Making it in the City of London, Chinese-style

Betty Liu, 31, a Beijing-born financial professional. [Photo/provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Britain's financial sector is replete with some of the country's most ambitious professionals, and succeeding within it is a tough task for employees from any background. Chinese people, in particular, seem to have the deck stacked against them, hailing from a vastly different business culture and education system, and often with a less developed English capability than their homegrown rivals.

But those Chinese workers who survive can go on to thrive as conduits between their employers and the world's second-largest economy, according to Betty Liu, 31.

Liu moved to the UK from Beijing in 2006, with a bachelor's degree in accounting and sketchy English. A decade later, she has worked at major banks, equity firms, and hedge funds in London, is the owner of a business, and will be flying to China next month as the right-hand-woman of a hedge fund manager who is looking to crack the Chinese market.

"I had so many difficult moments, but I was able to learn from my mistakes and adapt to my new environment," Liu said.

Those difficult times included the financial crisis, redundancies and overcoming a language barrier that almost led to her losing her job.

"My biggest weakness was language," she said. "The majority of students in my course at St Andrews were actually Chinese because finance is so popular among us, and I barely improved my English at university."

Liu graduated with exceptional grades and a master's degree in finance and got her first job through a recruiter. She was able to paper over the cracks in her language skills during an interview with an equity firm because she was able to practice her answers in advance. However, she was soon rumbled.

"My boss noticed my English was poor, listening to me talking to clients on the phone. She said, I'm sorry, I have to extend your probation period from three to six months," Liu said. "So, I worked even harder. She gave me a second chance and I became a permanent employee."

Then, having just found her feet, the credit crunch hit, crippling the firm and leaving Liu jobless.

"It was definitely the toughest period of my life," she said. "I remember walking across London Bridge thinking, what should I do? Should I leave this country? Most of my Chinese friends had all left because they couldn't get a job or a visa. But I just had to give it another go."

Liu says her work ethic — an attribute she says is distinctly Chinese — is what saved her. She enrolled on a two-year MBA course at LSE to gain experience and the mention of a big-name university on her CV. And she sat five Association of Chartered Certified Accountants papers in one year.

Eventually, she landed a job at the Bank of New York's offices in London. Liu was soon responsible for a small team, training new staff and was the winner of the company's BNY Mellon Aspire Award.

When, after 18 months, her department was relocated to India, Liu left the company and joined a hedge fund in London. She also started her own accountancy firm that specializes in serving Chinese clients in the UK.

By this year, she had built up a strong enough client-base to be able to work for herself full-time. And where it was once a hindrance, Liu now uses her identity as leverage.

"I maintain a very close relationship with my hedge fund boss, and now he wants to enter the Chinese financial market — next month we fly to China, and then who knows?"

 

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