October and November are generally not busy months for senior-level hiring in the banking sector – as this infographic shows, the pre-bonus months are predominately a time when banks like to slash staff.
There are, of course, exceptions – as we reported on Friday, banks in Asia are increasingly using forward-dated contracts to lure talent this quarter. And when banks in China and Hong Kong appoint senior bankers with sought-after mainland expertise, it barely matters what season it is.
Below we review three of the big people-moves that have taken place in China and Hong Kong over the last couple of months and explain what they reveal about the market for banking jobs in Asia.
1) Standard Chartered hires Woody Chan from China Citic Bank
The move: Chan, a 30-year treasury veteran, joined Stan Chart as head of financial markets for Hong Kong earlier this month – his remit covers foreign exchange, equities, commodities, rates and credit, and capital markets. He was previously head of treasury and markets at China Citic and has also worked at HSBC and Dah Sing Bank.
What it means: The poaching of Chan demonstrates that Western banks in Asia increasingly want to hire talent from Chinese institutions, primarily because of their vast mainland client networks, says Kin Fu, managing partner of Falcon Talent in Beijing. Yet the pool of bankers at Chinese firms who could make a successful transition remains small due to “cultural differences” – from management hierarchies to working hours – between global and local banks in China, adds Hubert Tam, managing partner at Hong Kong headhunters Sirius Partners. Foreign banks in China are unlikely to hire senior bankers who’ve only ever worked at domestic firms – they prefer to poach people like Chan whose stint at HSBC makes him the perfect “internationally enabled” Chinese banker.
Chan’s hiring should also be viewed in light of Standard Chartered’s well-documented current travails – the firm has suffered a profits slump and is trying to restructure its business. “After the financial crisis Stan Chart went on the offensive in Asia to pick up star bankers from Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers etc. By contrast, recruiting a treasury specialist from a local bank, like Chan, demonstrates a change of risk appetite, away from complex financial products towards a back-to-basics approach,” says Jason Tan, a partner at search firm Being & Associates in Shanghai.
He adds: “In China, traders from commercial banks who specialises in plain-vanilla products are likely to be more in demand in the future, while derivative traders will struggle to find jobs.”
2) Morgan Stanley shakes up its M&A leadership in Hong Kong
The move: In an internal reshuffle announced last month, Hong-Kong based Richard Wong and James Tam have been promoted to co-heads of mergers and acquisitions for Asia Pacific at Morgan Stanley.
What it means: As we reported earlier this month, Western banks in Asia are trying to beef up their M&A ranks in a bid to win business from Chinese companies who are increasingly looking for overseas acquisitions. China’s President, Xi Jinping, opening the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation CEO Summit in Beijing, announced that Chinese offshore investment will reach $1.25 trillion over the next decade. “Banks are expecting more and more cross-border M&A deals in the coming years, which will make people with M&A capabilities more popular in China and Hong Kong,” says Fu from Falcon Talent.
The newly promoted Tam, who joined Morgan Stanley 16 years ago, is well versed at helping Chinese companies invest overseas, having worked last year on the $4.7 billion acquisition of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International, the largest Chinese takeover of a US company.
“Senior M&A roles in Asia were traditionally held by top bankers the from US or Europe, but Morgan Stanley wants to get closer to its Asian clients by promoting senior bankers who connect with clients through language, culture, lifestyle and the local way of doing business,” says Tan from Being Associates. “Going forward we are likely to witness more talent localisation by investment banks in China and across Asia.”
3) ANZ poaches Huang Xiaoguang from Bank of America Merrill Lynch as China CEO
The move: ANZ announced in early November that Huang would be joining as chief executive officer for China and head of Greater China, based in Shanghai. At Bank of America Merrill Lynch Huang was most recently co-head of global corporate and investment banking in China.
What it means: While all banking job markets suffer from a senior cycle of appointments and replacements, mainland China’s talent merry-go-round operates at high speed. With skill shortages endemic across the banking sector, headhunters in China say experienced finance professionals are almost constantly open to speaking to them about new opportunities. “Huang Xiaoguang was looking for the next challenge and ANZ is an attractive platform in China,” says Alistair Ramsbottom, managing director of Shanghai search firm The Blacklock Group.
BAML last year sold its remaining stake in China Construction Bank after it had failed to give the US bank the desired access into the Chinese market. “BAML China remains a branch offering more limited products and services than other larger banks, so some were surprised that Huang joined it in the first place and aren’t surprised that he moved on given the lack of expansion there,” says a headhunter in China who asked not to be named.
ANZ has also gone through its “fair share of top management changes in China”, says Tan from Being Associates. Huang is coming to the Australian bank following the departure of Charles Li, whose resigned in July this year after taking over the reins from Christine Ip in 2011. Still, as we noted earlier this month, Huang’s appointment ultimately shows ANZ’s continued capability to poach talent from larger rivals as it pursues the “super regional” growth strategy it began in 2009. Farhan Faruqui, the former head of global banking in Asia Pacific at Citi, provides another recent example – he joined ANZ in August as chief executive of international banking, based in Hong Kong.