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Stressed Asian corporate bankers seek sanctuary at local firms  

Asian corporate bankers

Time to go local?

An increasing number of transaction bankers in Asia are deserting global banks in favour of local firms offering less regulatory pressure, more autonomy, and better work-life balance and job security.

Recruiters say rank-and-file transaction bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore are now following in the footsteps of veteran John Laurens, who moved from HSBC to become head of global transaction services at DBS back in 2014.

“We’re seeing more and more transaction banking professionals moving to regional or large local banks in Asia,” says transaction banker Russell Graham, a former head of service and solution delivery at Standard Chartered who now runs transaction banking consultancy SkyTxB. “The downsizing taking place at many of the global banks has inevitably resulted in highly qualified transaction bankers being displaced in Asia.”

And even transaction bankers whose positions aren’t under threat are growing keener on jobs at the likes of Bank of East Asia, DBS, Hang Seng Bank, OCBC and UOB. “A growing push factor from the global firms is also the impact of the constant rise in globally applicable regulations and the pressures on bankers to comply with them,” says Graham. “This places a tremendous strain on bankers, especially senior ones. Although the regional and local banks definitely need to comply with these regulations, the scope and impact is somewhat narrower and so the pressures are relatively less.”

Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group, says part of the reason she’s seeing more transaction bankers move to local firms in Singapore is because they feel too “exhausted” working at the global players.

“Asian transaction bankers in global banks tend to work using a different clock,” says Graham. “They’re often required to attend conference calls at very unsociable hours and work long hours to support colleagues in different time zones when responding to requests for proposals from clients at short notice. Compared to this, going to local or regional banks can enable them to achieve greater work-life balance by working more within their home time zone.”

The jobs on offer at local banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are also proving increasingly attractive. “Generally there’s more independence and autonomy and less office politics,” explains Pan Zaixian, general manager of recruiters Kerry Consulting in Singapore. “You’re working at headquarters, so you don’t need to deal with colleagues in New York or London interfering in how a client is managed. The accounts are your own and you have a clear regional focus.”

Pan adds: “A lot of corporate bankers here in Asia like to accessorise their CVs with names of global banks early on in their careers and then when they get a bit older they move to a local firm once the thrill of having a swanky name card wears off.”

“There’s now a growing awareness at regional and large local banks of the opportunity to grow their often nascent and organisationally fragmented transaction banking businesses, and of the need to recruit experienced professionals to help drive this,” adds Graham.

Going local is not completely without problems, however. Current clients who require global services may not move with you, points out Charania from Nastrac. “And you don’t get given as many hand-me-down clients – Asian offices of multi-nationals, for example – as you do at the globals, so client acquisition also can be challenging,” says Pan.


imtmphoto, iStock, Thinkstock

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