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Battle for graduate jobs rages in Asia, even as investment banks struggle

Asian graduate banking jobs

Ready to battle

The battle to secure internships and full-time offers at global investment banks in Asia is as fierce as ever this year, even as these same firms cut jobs, shutter business units and fall down regional revenue tables.

In a stream of bad news for Western banks so far in 2016, Barclays has closed its Asian equities operations, Goldman has culled a third of its investment bankers in Asia, and Chinese firms have undercut the market to capture more deal flow.

None of this, however, has curbed the enthusiasm of students in Singapore and Hong Kong applying for 2017 jobs at US and European banks.

“The recent troubles of these banks aren’t affecting the plans of students in Asia,” says former J.P. Morgan trader Alex Wong, now a student careers consultant at AW Coaching in Hong Kong. “As long as the best people and the best exposure are still in Western banks, graduates will still want to go to them. There is simply no alternative yet.”

Finance students we spoke to (we’ve used pseudonyms to protect their identities) agree.

“I’ve read about Western banks cutting jobs in Asia and initially it did make me think twice about applying to them,” says Hong Kong business student Peter Tang. “But I’ve now decided that these firms are still my first priority – I’m determined to work in global investment banking.”

“This restructuring in the industry isn’t deterring me or others from applying to the big IBs – they are very established players and most students are still trying their luck by sending in as many applications as possible,” adds Ian Chen, a National University of Singapore student who is currently interning at a US bank.

Tang, who has interned at Bank of China, says Chinese investment banks still “don’t have the reputation that Western Banks have” in the eyes of students in Asia, despite their growing dominance in the mainland market.

“And while Chinese banks may look like more secure employers now, in the long term I think they will face similar challenges to US and European banks,” says Tang.

Jeremy Wong, a Chinese University of Hong Kong student, says he is casting a wider net in his internship applications, but will prioritise any offers from international banks.

“The recent job cuts won’t really put off students from going into investment banks, although people might put more effort into looking at career alternatives like consulting or private equity,” says Wong. “But IB is still very attractive and the brand names of the global banks haven’t been tarnished in my opinion.”

The students point out that recent redundancies in Asia have focused on senior staff. “Even if there are job cuts at first-tier firms like Goldman, they are still top-heavy and won’t have much influence on students’ career decisions,” says NUS student Chen. “The prestige and opportunities provided by these banks far exceed any risks.”

Many Asian students believe that a stint at a Western investment bank will give them a solid career platform, even if they are eventually laid off.

“Investment banking isn’t a secure career, I don’t think anyone looking for a front-office role has that misconception,” says Terrance Li, a Singaporean student and Goldman Sachs intern. “But IB can lead to greater things because of the experience you get of deals and corporate strategy.”

Image credit: baona, Getty

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