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From bulge brackets to accounting firms: Corporate finance talent faces up to a new reality

M&A

Corporate finance professionals, once much feted in investment banks, have fallen on rough times. Jobs in Asia have been culled over the last few months, with i-banks in Hong Kong hit particularly hard.

Although there was heavy hiring in 2010 after the last downturn, the expected volume of business didn’t materialise. Ongoing redundancies have been made since late last year, says Brad Miller, managing director, Advantage Professional, Hong Kong.

Over in Singapore, corporate finance professionals haven’t suffered as badly in terms of lay-offs. Stella Tang, associate director, Robert Half, Singapore, says: “The corporate finance teams in Singapore typically aren’t as big as in Hong Kong so there have been fewer retrenchments. Hiring has been quiet since December last year; most people are staying put and waiting for bonuses to be paid out.”

Bye-bye banking

Given their poor employment prospects, candidates are suddenly more interested in moving into corporate finance roles outside of banking. Some bankers have expressed interest in joining either other corporates or big four accountancy firms, observes Miller. “This is surprising as previously accounting firms found it difficult to attract i-bankers to work for them. Many bankers are reconsidering their career direction.”

However, interest from the Big Four in Hong Kong haven’t been reciprocal. There’s justifiable concern that these i-bankers would move back into banking once the market picks up, adds Miller. After all, base salary differentials can be about 25 per cent and bonuses could be reduced by as much as 70 per cent.

In Singapore however, Tang says both the big four accounting firms and commercial businesses remain keen on hiring corporate finance bankers with Asian M&A deal experience. “Depending on the particular sector, the skills between i-banking and certain industries can be quite transferable. Some corporate employers even specifically request for banking experience.” But as in Hong Kong, overall compensation could be reduced by 10 to 30 per cent.

Despite skinnier wages, Tang expects to see more corporate finance professionals shifting out of banking because of the uncertain market. “Of course not everyone is accepting of pay cuts but some may want a better work-life balance or focus on a particular industry – it really depends on the motivation of the individual.”

Going forward, Miller anticipates corporate finance recruitment within banks to pick up in the second half. Demand is expected to be China-focused with a preference for mandarin-speaking candidates.
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