The front-office job market in Asian equities has been dire for at least three years – banks from Credit Suisse to Deutsche have been cutting trading roles. But as traditional equities trading vacancies in Hong Kong have slumped, demand for the technologists who design and run banks’ electronic trading systems has surged.
The Asian equities market became more “electronified” in 2018, according to a report released in January by Greenwich Associates. Financial institutions expect single-stock electronic trading alone to comprise 49% of their Asia (ex-Japan and Australia) execution volume within three years, the report states.
“Asia has historically lagged behind the US and Europe in the automation of markets activities,” says former equities trader Warwick Pearmund, now associate director of emerging technologies at Pure Search in Hong Kong. “But banks are now hiring technologists in Hong Kong because this gap is closing rapidly, not only to fit in with global automation trends, but also to take advantage of regional initiatives such as China’s Stock Connect with Hong Kong.”
Both US and European banks are on the lookout for equities technologists in Hong Kong. Goldman Sachs has several Hong Kong-based vacancies in equities technology, including a program developer for quant clients. Recruiting more developers is essential for Goldman to see off the “expected risk of competitors accelerating their builds, leaving GS unable to reach revenue targets”, according to the bank’s careers website.
Goldman is right to be concerned about its rivals, which are hiring across a wide gambit of roles in Hong Kong. JP Morgan wants a systematic trading algo developer for its equities tech team, and Societe Generale is hiring a C++ low latency trading engineer. UBS is taking on a cash equities IT support analyst for its client-facing technology team, while the equity derivatives tech team at Bank of America has an opening for a software developer with a C++ / C# / .NET background.
Tech recruiters in Hong Kong say these examples are part of a wider rise in demand in equities technology. “Investment in trading platforms in Hong Kong is continuing. A number of the large banks are completing total rebuilds of their systems, with equity derivatives being the main focus,” says Peter Barker, a senior director at Gravitas Recruitment.
Similarly, Vince Natteri, a former programmer who’s now a director of Pinpoint Asia, says there are “a lot of roles” in both equity derivatives and cash equities. “Banks usually look for low-latency C++ development skills, an understanding of the markets, and a good grasp of Linux / Unix operating systems,” says Natteri. “But I’ve also seen plenty of python quant development roles opening up,” he adds.
Banks are building “next generation trading systems” in Hong Kong using machine learning and the latest GUI (graphical user interface) technologies, says Natteri. Equities-tech roles usually sit with the business and are not particularly vulnerable to being offshored away from Hong Kong, he adds.
As recruitment increases, finding equities-tech talent is becoming more difficult. “Developers are in high demand, and demand outstrips supply. This partly comes down to Asia historically lagging the West in automation,” says Pearmund. Although equities-tech vacancies typically prioritise people who've worked in equities before, talent shortages are forcing banks to widen their nets and assess candidates based on their programming skills. Credit Suisse is open to people from outside the finance sector as it expands its equity derivatives tech team in Hong Kong, Paul Gresham, CIO of APAC solutions IT at CS, told us previously.
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