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Count your blessings if you work in the buy side in Hong Kong

While recruitment on the sell side has been slow going with hiring freezes and job cuts, buy-side recruitment has remained buoyant in Hong Kong even in these uncertain markets.

Simon Roberts, managing director, head of Asia Pacific, Sheffield Haworth, says: “The buy side still seems to have the appetite to hire in Hong Kong, we have open mandates across the long only, alternatives and private wealth space.” Roberts says most buy-side firms hired only modestly last year, recruiting mainly in distribution and sales.

This year, however, he’s seen hiring demand for portfolio managers, private wealth, real estate, infrastructure investment, principal finance and private equity roles. He adds: “There is certainly a trend for buy-side firms from the US and Europe to increase their footprint in Asia given the growth opportunities.”

Similarly, Janet Lee, director, Burke Associates, says buy-side recruitment hasn’t slowed down. “Demand has been very stable and I haven’t heard of any hiring freezes. Firms are still hiring and there has been quite a bit of interest in China as it’s a market that firms want to get into.”

Why the difference?

Tougher market conditions this year may account for the difference in recruitment activity between the buy and sell sides.

The flow side of businesses (global markets and equities) has been sorely tested, with some banks sustaining substantial losses. Roberts says: “Combine the downturn in revenues with the increase in fixed costs, and banks (which generally over hired over the past 18 months) are caught between a rock and a hard place.” The onerous capital requirements as a result of Basel III also mean most firms struggle to make a decent return on their capital, he adds.

Time to make a move?

Will this mean an influx of candidates moving from the sell side to the buy side? Not just yet, although recruiters foresee such moves could happen if the market remains downbeat.

Lee says although sell-side candidates were generally uninterested in moving to the buy side previously, she now knows of at least one or two who are open to such moves.

Roberts adds: “It’s dangerous to make sweeping generalizations, but there will certainly be some candidates that do make this move. It generally depends on where the positions are.”

However, he points out that making the career switch isn’t easy either. “Not all investment bankers can successfully make the transition to private equity, similarly, most sell-side research analysts may not be able to become portfolio managers.

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