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Double trouble for UBS in its big, bold Chinese hiring drive?

We’re only three weeks into the year, bonuses haven’t even been paid and already a western bank has made a big public announcement about its Asian hiring. Sounds like 2010 all over again.

This time the firm is UBS, the country is China and the number is about 500 extra employees. UBS has the largest headcount of the foreign banks in China and it wants to double that to 1,000 within three to five years as part of an “all-area” business expansion.

In 2011 it plans to recruit, among other staff, investment bankers and about 90 equities salesmen. Doing this in New York or London would require a standard hiring drive, but such is the talent short-nature of China’s fledgling foreign investment banking industry that UBS faces serious challenges.

Chinese i-bankers are difficult to poach because all firms are competing for candidates with strong client connections who can generate immediate revenue. There’s not many of them around in China, and recent returnees usually lack the desired networks. The UBS recruitment and newly established joint ventures by JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley will squeeze the job market even further.

UBS believes its brand will help it secure staff. “Our reputation did not suffer to the same extent in Asia so the business kept on growing. We have a very strong brand here,” Chief Executive Oswald Grübel told the Wall Street Journal.

However, one Shanghai-based headhunter, who chose to remain anonymous, said the UBS name is not powerful enough to automatically attract the amount of candidates it needs, especially since much of the growth will require poaching from rivals. “In Shanghai at least, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse are seen as better employer brands,” he says.

Stephen He, senior consultant, banking & finance division, Consult Group, adds that UBS has a large portfolio, “but not a unique selling point compared with other banks in China.”

In order to convince candidates to move, the firm will consider raising compensation and it will need to do plenty of marketing, says He. “UBS hasn’t completed any significant deals recently for their Chinese clients either. This would help to increase their profile in the mainland.”

Generating good PR is all part of the recruitment game and saying you want to double your workforce can help to stir up images of a successful, expansionist firm in the minds of some candidates. But do you believe the hype? Let us know below.

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