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25% slump in once red-hot Hong Kong banking job

Corporate banking Hong Kong

Until very recently corporate bankers in Hong Kong enjoyed an ever-buoyant job market and seemed immune from the hiring slumps that hit their investment banking counterparts.

Not any more. Stung by having too many poor relationships managers, corporate banks have now curtailed their once rampant recruitment.

“Corporate banking RMs are finding it hard to get a job right now. There are too many of them and too many of a low quality,” says a senior Hong Kong headhunter who asked not to be named. “The banks are lending less so they don’t need as many guys out there playing golf with clients.”

There are about 25% fewer RM vacancies in Hong Kong than there were 12 months ago, say recruiters in the territory.

“Corporate banks have been hiring in big numbers over the past five years,” says John Mullally, financial services director at recruiters Robert Walters in Hong Kong. “But they often experienced high turnover and bad productivity from their new RMs. They took on too many with patchy track records, whose product knowledge wasn’t strong and who overstated their client networks.”

Over the past few months banks have become “more circumspect” about who they hire. “It’s not about quantity and hitting big headcount targets now; it’s about how efficient a new RM will be. Banks are assessing performance per head.”

Significantly, the local bellwether firms HSBC and Standard Chartered – two of the previously “most aggressive” players in the corporate banking job market – have now pared back their hiring, says a Hong Kong recruiter with knowledge of both banks.

“There are a few outliers who are taking on RMs – Wells Fargo, NAB, CBA and Chinese banks like ICBC – but they’re smaller banks hiring perhaps a dozen RMs over 12 months. It’s not 100 people any more; it’s much smaller scale,” he says.

The larger banks are also cutting more of their unproductive RMs. “Unusually, this year we’ve seen more performance-related redundancies in corporate banking,” says the Hong Kong recruiter. “And ANZ and Standard Chartered have also been laying off RMs as part of their wider restructuring in Asia.”

The job-market outlook isn’t entirely gloomy, however, as long as your resume is full of recent revenue gains.

“If you’re a top-performing RM with a big client book you might not have as many employment options as you once did in Hong Kong, but banks will still be interested in you and you can still get top dollar for moving jobs,” says Mullally.

Image credit: peshkov, Getty

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