After 12 months of redundancies blighting the job market in Asia, there are some tentative signs of recovery in front-office recruitment.
Recruiters in Singapore and Hong Kong tell us where hiring is taking off, or is at least is no longer on life support.
Demand for corporate relationship managers (RMs) in commodity finance has increased in the past three months in Singapore and Hong Kong, said Cheryl Koh, a principal consultant at Selby Jennings in Singapore. Candidates at VP level and above are most in demand – especially those covering metals and energy, sectors into which banks are shifting their lending focus – and typically receive pay rises of 20% to 25% when changing firms. “Global investment banks are establishing new commodities desks in Singapore to finance trade transactions. Unless banks are willing to train more juniors, I expect continued high demand for experienced RMs,” Koh added.
It’s far from a jobs boom in Asian M&A, but compared with 2012, when many firms were cutting back in the region, banks are hiring more M&A professionals, if only to replace those who have left or been promoted. “Investment banking deal flow is slightly up this year, while the number of people in firms overall has been stable, so there’s backfilling as the promotion cycle kicks in – and there’s been a notable recent pick-up in analyst and associate hiring as a result,” said Karl Franzmann, an associate director at PageGroup in Hong Kong.
Last year firms including Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Barclays and Morgan Stanley were laying off equity researchers in Hong Kong. “But it’s now widely accepted that most banks overcut, so with conditions slowly improving, and in anticipation of increased M&A and IPO activity next year, banks are looking to fill gaps now,” said Hong Kong-based Fraser Douglas, managing consultant, banking, finance and accounting, at Links International. At global banks in Hong Kong, hiring of equity researchers is mainly in the consumer goods, transportation, infrastructure and utilities fields, he added. Chinese banks are also recruiting, with shrinking bonuses at Western rivals making them more attractive to candidates.
Banks continue to build in transaction banking – not only in trade finance, but also in cash management – and they are beefing up their sales teams as a result. “Transaction banking creates stickiness to clients, enabling banks to maintain long-term businesses relationships,” said Singapore-based Gary Lai, managing director, Southeast Asia, at the Charterhouse Partnership. “As a result, banks are willing to pay between 20% and 30% increments to sales or product people when hiring from the competition.”
Yes, private banks are still recruiting in Asia, even as they struggle against rising cost-income ratios. “Private banks in Singapore are aggressively hiring relationship managers to manage the flow of wealth from foreign clients across Malaysia, Indonesia and China,” said Gerard Milligan, strategic account director at recruiters Randstad in Singapore. “It’s at a point where supply is failing to keep up with demand. Predominantly, roles are being filled by local Singaporeans or expatriates with significant Asia experience.”
Global investment banks have been running lean headcounts in Australia for the last two years. But with markets beginning to recover Down Under, particularly within M&A, workloads are increasing and MDs don’t have enough associates in their teams to help execute deals, said Jason Hutchins, an associate at Anton Murray Consulting in Sydney. “It’s the class of ’08/09 who are in the highest demand – first- and second-year associates with execution experience who can bring through the next generation of bankers, and progress to more senior origination roles left vacant in their firms,” he added. “Banks are once again opening the cheque book to entice these vital hires from their competitors.”