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Surge in Hong Kong bankers wanting jobs at “price butcher” banks

Chinese banks hiring ECM Hong Kong

As Chinese companies dominate new listing in Hong Kong, more rank-and-file ECM bankers in the city are vying to join the mainland banks that are underwriting these deals, say headhunters.

“There’s now an increased willingness by ECM bankers from bulge bracket firms to move to Chinese banks,” says Yvette Kwan, a former APAC investment banking COO at UBS, now a partner at Hong Kong finance consultancy Quinlan & Associates.

“About 10 to 17 Hong Kong-based ECM bankers – locals, mainlanders and others – have called us each month over the past year looking to join a Chinese securities house, even for a reduced salary, just to secure a job in their field,” says Jason Tan, a partner at search firm Carlson Harriet.

So far this year, nine out of the 10 leading advisors on Hong Kong IPOs are mainland banks, including the top-three of China Construction Bank, Haitong Securities, and Agricultural Bank of China, according to Bloomberg. Mainland banks have cornered the market as more companies from their home country use Hong Kong’s exchange to go public. While some Western corporates have listed in Hong Kong in the past – Samsonite in 2011, for example – few do so now.

Chinese banks have also landed Hong Kong IPOs by offering fees as low as 1%, well below the rates of their global rivals. “Chinese banks, like many other Chinese organisations, have always use pricing to win deals,” says Tan. “Call them price butchers if you like.”

But mainland banks aren’t hiring “superstar” MDs from the likes of J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, says Tan. “They’re winning deals with low fees, so they can’t justify spending millions on senior people from Western banks.”

The ECM jobs they have on offer are largely at the junior to mid level. “Due to their extensive corporate banking networks, Chinese banks already have a strong deal pipeline to originate Chinese issuers suitable for IPOs” says Stanley Soh, a Hong Kong-based regional country director of financial services solutions in Asia. “So they need strong IPO execution bankers to lead and enhance the overall execution experience.”

“Their big pipeline also makes them great training grounds for junior bankers to work on a variety of different IPO deals,” adds Soh.

If you leave a Western bank to join an ECM team at a Chinese bank in Hong Kong, expect your base salary to fall between 10% and 30%. “But in the current market your bonus may make up the differential due to the higher volume of IPO deals Chinese banks are now involved in,” says Soh.

Meanwhile, ECM specialists in Hong Kong who want to remain within global banks are having to “reinvent themselves”, says former UBS COO Kwan. “The traditional China-focused ECM banker within Western banks is in decline, so some are expanding their coverage to other countries, or expanding their scope into other products, like DCM,” she says.

Image credit: Francemora, Getty

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