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Foreign bankers flee Tokyo for Singapore and Hong Kong. Japanese work on

Singapore and Hong Kong are the most popular Asian destinations as foreign bankers flee Tokyo. And rather than putting jobs in jeopardy, firms are accommodating individual, temporary requests to relocate. However, the main danger for employers is that some experienced expats may decide never to return, say headhunters.

“With expats being encouraged to go home for their own safety, the profile of the workforce will change, at least in the short term,” says the managing director of a major recruitment firm.

Moving on out

ICAP is allowing foreigners with families to move temporarily to Hong Kong and Singapore, according to Bloomberg. Blackstone is giving its 28 employees the option of going to a destination of their choice. BNP Paribas has sent about 10 workers to Hong Kong and Singapore, while several senior staff at Citigroup in Tokyo have asked to shift.

However, despite what headhunters now describe as an expat exodus, the International Bankers Association – which represents the likes of JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Barclays Capital – insists banks are operating as normal. A few individuals are departing, not whole teams, say the banks.

Non-Japanese make up less than 10 per cent of the workforce at foreign firms in Tokyo, so banks can afford to lose some of their expats for a brief period. But what they can’t afford are too many permanent departures because foreign bankers in Japan often hold senior positions.

Holding the fort

Travel delays aside, most expats do at least have the luxury of leaving Tokyo. “I am in Osaka. But this is not, for a number of reasons, an option for many people, especially Japanese,” says one headhunter who asked not to be named.

Another recruiter adds: “The Japanese just have a way of getting on with it. Banks are actually still making offers for candidates, but just delaying the start date.”

The head of HR at a US investment bank says almost all his employees are in the office and would not be relocated unless there is a further serious deterioration at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Firms with a small Tokyo headcount can be more generous: OCBC has offered to move 13 Japanese staff from Tokyo to Fukuoka, according to the Straits Times.

Rolling out the reassurance

But while major banks haven’t moved their whole workforces, they have been dispatching their big guns to give reassurance. Jamie Dimon, the JP Morgan chief executive officer, may visit Japan next week. Ivan Ritossa, one of 10 executive committee members of Barclays Capital, has already flown from Singapore to Tokyo this week, along with five other regional business heads.

What’s happening to hiring?

The impact on banking-sector recruitment remains to be seen. “For the most part, financial institutions have put everything on hold until next week, although some have continued their recruitment processes as per usual,” says the recruitment firm MD.

Because Japan is a high-cost centre, banks have already off shored all the functions they can, he adds. “Most business streams predominantly service domestic clients, which nearly always means they need to be based in Japan. So long as the economy can bounce back, there will be a need for finance professionals. We may even see a short-term need if some foreign nationals either delay or choose not to return to Tokyo.”

Comments (5)

  1. I work for a japanese broker in Tokyo, a whole team of foreigners moved to HK.. only japanese members of the team were left behind.

  2. The foreigners turned tail and ran. I wonder what the Japanese think of their foreign co-workers and their foreign bosses? In Asia, indeed if not the whole world, we now know who has the guts and who doesn’t.

  3. Takechiyo, if you were in working and living with your family in New York and a similar event happened, you would leave the country or city too. As a rich expat banker in America you’d have more flexibility to leave that the locals. Same would apply to a British banker in Geneva if that city was potentially under threat etc etc. Foreigners will always go home first.

  4. I wonder what the Japanese living in a country with a similar disaster would have done? Especially if their company or govt had issued statements recommending people to leave. I imagine that they would have listened to the warnings and departed just as foreigners living in Japan did.

  5. What happened in Japan could be a blessing in disguise.The blinkers are falling off on the true tenacity of these foreign bankers (or foreign employees). From what happened in Japan, HK and Sg will only realise that being western does not mean being good.

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