Tokyo drift?

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Is Tokyo losing out to Hong Kong and Singapore? Maybe.

There are certainly signs that Tokyo isn't the financial centre it was. Earlier this month, a Japanese government panel led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for financial regulations in the country to be relaxed - a sign that Japanese authorities are becoming concerned about Tokyo's position as an Asian financial centre.

In other moves, Fidelity Investments is shifting its Japanese equity trading desk from Tokyo to Hong Kong. And Deutsche Bank has set up its transition management centre in Hong Kong, becoming the first transition manager to favour Hong Kong over Tokyo. Its rationale behind the move was apparently Hong Kong's proximity to China and burgeoning institutional markets in south Asia.

But Michael Di Sicco, director of headhunter Global Sage in Hong Kong, says not to expect a flood of jobs from Tokyo to HK.

"We expect business to increase in Tokyo this year," he says. "Hong Kong is the gateway to China but we do not see a trend of moving people and business from Tokyo. There is no division of different financial services functions between the two."

Hong Kong versus Singapore is a different story, however, as both continue to slug it out to become the pre-eminent financial services centre in Asia ex Japan.

Aaron Stewart, a director at headhunter Pelham Search Pacific, is based in Hong Kong and argues that it's winning the battle, at least from the perspective of financial services companies.

"There are a few banks centred in Singapore," he says. "But that will be based on how much business they have in south Asia."

Even from a candidate's perspective, he argues Hong Kong is catching up fast with Singapore - long regarded as the more family-friendly city - with schools improving and very little difference in the cost of housing.

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