J.P. Morgan has displaced Goldman Sachs as the the bank of choice for finance professionals in Asia. It’s taken the top spot for Singapore and Hong Kong in the eFinancialCareers 2017 Ideal Employer rankings, which asked almost 2,000 bankers in the two cities which companies they would prefer to work for.
This time last year, Goldman Sachs ranked first. Maybe its decision to cut its senior front-office ranks in Asia has had an impact on its standing. J.P. Morgan’s has kept redundancies to a minimum.
Still, Goldman is among four U.S. banks in our top 10 ideal employers for Asia.
Why do Asian finance professionals still want to work for American banks? It’s partly about money. Of the people who voted for Goldman as their ideal employer, for example, 83% and 72% think it offers competitive salaries and bonuses respectively.
“The U.S. banks are faring much better than their European rivals in Asia, both in terms of market performance and employee compensation,” says former Deutsche banker Benjamin Quinlan, now CEO of Hong Kong finance consultancy Quinlan & Associates.
Having a major US investment bank on your resume also comes with plenty of prestige in both business and family circles in Asia. In our survey, a high proportion of voters for Goldman (77%) and J.P. Morgan (67%) think these firms to be established industry leaders.
“Branding is important to Asian job seekers and the world’s largest companies today are even more dominated by U.S. brands than they were five years ago,” says Eric Sim, a former UBS MD, now an adjunct associate professor of finance at HKUST. “US banks are also less affected by economic and political problems in European countries.”
UBS and Credit Suisse do feature in our top 10, though. And they rank higher in Asia (5th and 7th respectively) than they do globally (8th and 10th). Credit Suisse lowered its Asia profit targets in December and laid off Asian equities staff in March. But CEO Tidjane Thiam has repeatedly stressed his commitment to expanding in Asian wealth management and the firm hired about 100 relationship managers in the region last year.
Both Credit Suisse and UBS are dominant players in Asian M&A – they finished second and third respectively (behind Goldman) for Asia ex-Japan M&A revenues in 2016, according to Dealogic. UBS is also the largest private bank in Asia by assets under management and headcount.
Singapore banks move up
All three Singapore banks have moved up our Ideal Employer list compared with 2016. OCBC is the 12th most favoured company to work for among finance professionals in Asia, up five places in 12 months. UOB has risen from 29th to 16th.
Singapore’s largest bank, DBS, sits in 4th place (from 6th a year ago) and now outranks many larger US and European employers.
Much of the appeal of Singapore banks is down to their reputation as profitable, financially stable companies (they are all rated in the top-four safest lenders in Asia), which are expanding and which rarely make large-scale redundancies.
This is reflected in our survey – 70% of DBS voters perceive that its financial performance is a key strength, a higher percentage than even Goldman (65%) and J.P. Morgan (64%).
“As employers, the Singaporean banks are capitalising on their strong credit ratings. And they’re using Singapore’s status as a wealth management hub to build their private banking capabilities,” says Quinlan.
Over the past year DBS and OCBC (via its Bank of Singapore arm) have acquired the Asian wealth units of ANZ and Barclays respectively.
Mainland banks miss out
No Chinese institutions feature in our top 10 (or even top 20) ideal employers for Singapore and Hong Kong.
This is despite Chinese banks – which offer lower fees than their Western rivals – increasingly winning advisory mandates from expansionist mainland companies. CITIC Securities and China Securities, for example, topped the Dealogic league table for Asia ex-Japan investment banking revenues last year.
Income isn’t everything, however. “Global banks are typically much better when it comes to base pay, training and international mobility,” says Quinlan. “Chinese banks are perceived to be more ‘local’ in their company cultures, business practices and clients.”
Tech giants gain ground
Google opened a new campus-style APAC headquarters in Singapore last November featuring hipster cafes, massage rooms and Lego-playing desks. It now has more than 1,000 staff in the Republic.
Unsurprisingly, 80% of people in Asia who voted for Google as their ideal employer perceive it as offering a good office environment. It also scores highly for flexible working options (74%) and company perks (73%) as well as in more business-focused categories such as being an industry innovator (81%).
Facebook and Apple gained ground on 2016 – the former moved one place to 10th position, while the latter jumped two slots to 14th.
The increasing appeal of Google, Facebook and Apple to finance professionals comes at a bad time for banks in Asia and globally, which are trying to reposition themselves as technology companies and hire more graduates with tech backgrounds.
Competition between banks and tech firms for graduate talent in Asia is rising. J.P. Morgan, for example, has launched a hiring campaigning targeting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) students at Singaporean universities.
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