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A happy first half for Hong Kong i-banking hiring

As investment banks’ revenues have risen during the first half of 2010, so have their mid-to-senior level front-office headcounts.

Investment banking fees for Asia ex-Japan total US$3.1bn so far in 2010, almost three times the US$1.1bn generated between January and June last year, according to data provider Dealogic. These figures already surpass the previous record of US$2.8bn earned by banks in H1 2007.

In Hong Kong, Asia’s investment banking nerve centre, competition for experienced, revenue-generating talent is rising, resulting in multiple offers and hostile counter offers, comments Ellie Pilgrim, a consultant at Principal Search.

“Within capital markets, we have seen internal transfers from Europe and North America, aggressive external hiring at a mid to senior level and significant restructuring of businesses as banks look to build out their capabilities,” she adds.

Pilgrim says banks have extended their main January-to-April hiring window this year because of bonuses being paid late, increased competition from other firms expanding in Asia, and counter-offering.

Headhunters generally expect only a slight decline in demand for senior i-bankers in the second half.

Pui Gardiner, director, Carraway Group, comments: “While the first half figures for ECM have been good, the market is softening. This may have prompted senior bankers to make their moves now and cash in their current value in the form of guaranteed bonuses before the market – and the demand for ECM bankers – slows further.”

Pilgrim predicts some sort of slowdown in hiring over August and September. “But we are already working closely with a number of clients in terms of identifying and approaching mid to senior level candidates who are deemed strategic and important hires as part of their 2011 hiring plans.”

But what type of i-bankers will be sought after in Hong Kong in the second half? Many teams are still understaffed at the senior associate through to first-year director level, says Pilgrim. “There continues to be heavy demand for regional natural resources bankers, particularly in oil and gas, and metals and mining.”

So far this year, Goldman Sachs heads the table for overall investment banking revenues in Asia, having earned US$136m, according to Dealogic, despite the fact it was not the most prolific bank in any particular sector.

Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Macquarie, and RBS will be among the heaviest H2 hirers, says one headhunter, who asked not to be named.

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