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Desperate Asian investment bankers flee to corporate banking

Will 2014 be hot? Or not?

Will 2014 be hot? Or not?

A bleak hiring outlook is forcing a few investment bankers in Hong Kong to do what was “unthinkable” just a year ago: take a job in corporate banking.

Beyond a few high-profile leadership appointments, investment banks aren’t hiring much in Hong Kong, according to 13 senior human resources professionals from large, mainly global, financial institutions who attended a recent eFinancialCareers round table in Hong Kong. The delegates, who were based in Hong Kong, asked not to be named.

“Redundancies are just business as usual for us and others right now,” said a representative from a UK bank in Hong Kong. “Our global-markets division remains cost conscious in Asia, so in areas like research, sales and trading, we’re only hiring very selectively, if at all.”

His counterpart at an Asian bank in Hong Kong added: “There’s little investment banking activity in China; we’re keeping our IB team lean.”

A round-table attendee from an Asia Pacific bank said it would take more than a sustained capital-markets recovery in Asia for her firm to beef up in investment banking. “There’s just still too much uncertainly around globally, especially in Europe, for us to commit to expensive new hires,” she said.

However, the round-table delegates agreed that corporate bankers were in demand because they provided steady revenues as large companies in Asia sought services such as loans and cash management.

Because bonuses had just been paid,  the next three months would be peak season for recruitment in corporate banking, said a delegate from a Southeast Asian bank in Hong Kong. “People are leaving us but leaving other banks too, and we have seen an increase in new applicants as a result,” she said.

A human resources person from a US bank added: “Not every firm does corporate banking, so there’s a lot of musical chairs of people between those who do. Overall there aren’t enough people already working in corporate banking to meet client demand.”

Other than graduates, where else are employers turning for new corporate-banking talent? “There are some good i-bankers out of work right now in Hong Kong and these days some of them are willing to look at corporate banking,” said a delegate from a US bank. “That would have been unthinkable 12 months ago,” he added.

The attendee from the Asia Pacific bank said she had hired two investment bankers into corporate banking this year. “I was surprised that they moved, but they were disenchanted and also unsure that anything would open up in IB in the long term.”

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