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The sector where firms are still fighting for investment bankers

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Investment banking hiring in Asia Pacific so far this year has generally been a dull, sporadic affair, with even Hong Kong and Singapore providing scant opportunities for Western bankers looking to relocate. Deal volume hasn’t been high enough – IB revenues in the region fell 9% year-on-year to $8.8bn in the first nine months, according to Dealogic – to trigger a general recovery in recruitment.

But there is a sector within Asian IB where experienced rainmakers are still shifting between global banks with relative ease: FIG. The latest in a flurry of senior appointments is Steven Sun, who is returning to UBS in Hong Kong as chairman of financial institutions group, having worked at Barclays and then Standard Chartered since his departure from the Swiss bank in 2009.

Sun’s move is emblematic of the job market in FIG’s upper echelons in Asia, according to headhunters. “In a competitive, relationship-driven sector like FIG, banks like to hire savvy old hands who can open doors and leverage client relationships, rather than take on more junior bankers,” said Rafael Brana, an associate at search firm Bo Le Associates in Hong Kong.

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Banks have also realised that they can no longer afford to cut staff in a sector where deals remain comparatively buoyant – financial institutions was the leading industry for Asia Pacific IB revenue in the first nine months, albeit with revenues down year-on-year. “To meet current workloads and because of overcutting in the past 18 months, banks are now having to replace senior people in Asia,” said Damian Babis, director of search firm Capital People in Hong Kong.

While the Asian FIG market is no longer being propped up by mega mainland IPOs, like the $22.1bn Agricultural Bank of China deal in 2010, there is still enough activity to warrant moving senior FIG bankers to the region. Last month, for example, Citigroup announced that Valentin Garger, a managing director in its European FIG team, was moving to Hong Kong to head up the group for ex-Japan Asia.

And there’s been poaching within Asia, too. In September, Peter Yeung joined Citi in Hong Kong from Credit Suisse as a director covering financial institutions. A month earlier, Credit Suisse hired Michael Tan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s head of Asia Pacific FIG. “Musical chairs has certainly started again in FIG recently. With Michael Tan gone, for example, Bank of America Merrill Lynch is looking to hire,” said a Hong Kong headhunter who asked not to be named.

BAML ranks first in advising on finance-sector mergers in the region this year after working with Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group on a $5.7bn deal to buy a majority stake in Thailand’s Bank of Ayudhya, according to Bloomberg data. “It’s a big player in FIG and and hence its bankers are targeted when other banks are hiring,” said the Hong Kong headhunter.

Away from Hong Kong, FIG banking’s traditional centre in Asia, Singapore is emerging as a growing hub for FIG jobs. “Banks are expanding their Southeast Asian coverage from Singapore as they seek more deals in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other SEA countries,” said Brana from Bo Le Associates. “So while the Mandarin language was almost compulsory when Asian FIG banking was dominated by China, it’s less vital in SEA.”

Last year Citigroup poached senior FIG banker Will McLane from Morgan Stanley, relocating him from Hong Kong to Singapore in the process.

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