M&A bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore should prepare themselves for busy workloads in 2015 and take solace that their sector will stay largely immune from layoffs and will experience some spurts of hiring.
Asia ex-Japan M&A volumes hit a record high last year, but while this surge in deals won’t trigger a jobs boom in 2015, it is making M&A bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore feel safer in their current roles and it is opening up pockets of recruitment.
“The emergence of infrastructure and technology M&A, depressed commodity prices, restructuring at Chinese state-owned enterprises and Southeast Asian regulatory relaxation are some of the key factors driving the Asian M&A markets in 2015,” says Stanley Soh, a Hong Kong-based country director of financial services solutions in Asia.
Over the coming bonus season in Hong Kong Soh expects “moderate” people movement between global banks as their current teams remain “adequate to deal with their pipelines”.
Nevertheless, [efc_twitter text="some banks in Hong Kong are tipped to have hiring mandates in M&A in the first half of this year"], according to a headhunter in the city who asked to remain anonymous. CLSA, the Hong Kong-based brokerage now owned by China’s Citic Securities, is looking to expand into M&A and hire at most levels, following the appointment of former Macquarie banker Andrew Low as its investment banking head banking last month. Bank of China International will also be hiring in Hong Kong, adds the recruiter.
Western banks in Hong Kong, as they did last year, are likely to promote and hire a handful of mainland-focused senior M&A bankers “with great track records”, says Eunice Ng, director of talent acquisition at search firm Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong. In October, for example, Morgan Stanley promoted Hong-Kong based Richard Wong and James Tam to co-heads of M&A for Asia Pacific.
“China continues to lead cross-border M&A demand due to SOE reforms and Chinese private companies making acquisitions, so there's demand for PRC bankers who have both cross-border experience and the ability to work within the Chinese political and corporate ecosystem to close deals,” explains Soh.
By contrast, in Singapore, a less developed M&A market than Hong Kong, hiring will be stronger at a junior level as banks seek more staff to help execute Southeast Asian deals. M&A activity is being driven by consumer demand among the region’s growing middle classes and by government infrastructure programmes. “There’s been increased M&A by conglomerates in Southeast Asia who’ve tapped funding predominantly from syndicated loans, resulting in higher demand for M&A execution and financing teams,” says Soh.
“[efc_twitter text="This year will see particularly busy M&A hiring in Singapore, given the regional market momentum created"] last year,” adds Singapore-based Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group. “I don’t expect too much candidate movement post-bonuses this quarter because of the bonuses themselves, but there will be movement because of new regional M&A opportunities and their increasing scale.”
Given the Southeast Asian focus of M&A deals being executed, Singaporean banks DBS, OCBC and UOB, which have a firm foothold in the region, will be among the most expansionist firms, adds Charania.