Don’t be fooled by talk of cost-cutting and poor bonuses in Asian investment banking. If you’re a top-performing investment banking analyst in Hong Kong or Singapore, you’re still in a strong position to find a new role over the next few months. Jobs for elite juniors – even those still in their first year in the banking sector – keep cropping up in both cities, thanks to a merry-go-round of resignations and recruitment.
“The job market for juniors is good in Hong Kong. My friends and I are getting calls from headhunters, and good analysts can even get multiple offers from bulge brackets,” says Stephanie Fong (not her real name), an analyst who joined a second-tier European bank as a graduate last September and is already speaking to recruiters about moving to a better firm. “Another analyst from my 2018 batch has just jumped to another bank after six months. I hear that JP Morgan and Bank of America are actively hiring juniors,” she adds.
BofA is indeed recruiting a corporate finance analyst in Hong Kong, while JP Morgan wants a debt capital markets analyst, according to the banks’ websites. These are not isolated examples. Junior hiring – from first-year-analyst to associate level – remains comparatively strong in both Singapore and Hong Kong, according to recruiters. “Healthy demand for front-office analysts and associates will continue into 2019, especially in M&A,” says Serena Fernando, a consultant at recruiters Robert Walters.
Asia Pacific M&A volumes reached their second-highest level on record in 2018, and the momentum is expected to continue this year, despite US-China trade tensions and slowing Chinese economic growth. But strong deal-flow isn’t the main reason that more execution jobs are opening up at global banks in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Many of the junior vacancies advertised this year won’t be additional headcount; they’ll be replacement roles to backfill bankers who have left, some without even completing their graduate training. While the buy-side has always been on the radar of young bankers in Asia, today’s juniors also have the option of taking up an in-house corporate development job, says Jay Abeyasinghe, a director at recruiters Morgan McKinley. “I see lots of analysts leaving the industry, so banks need to hire new ones to fill these places,” adds junior banker Fong.
Investment banks aren’t always finding it easy to replace their young staff, especially in Singapore where government regulations encourage the hiring of locals over foreigners at a junior level. “The local talent pool for front-office roles is sparse and top-tier banks have exacting standards,” says Abeyasinghe. “Junior roles often stay open for months as banks don’t compromise on quality. I've seen some banks search for up to 10 months to fill an analyst or associate role."
Therein lies the rub: the junior job market is healthy in Asia, but only if you have a great track record at the bank that hired you out of university. Stellar academics won’t get you your first non-grad role, and (as we reported yesterday) banks aren’t interested in moving people from the back office to fill gaps in the front office. “There’s demand for analysts, but it’s still super, super competitive for candidates. Expect many interview rounds,” says Eunice Ng, director of headhunters Avanza Consulting in Hong Kong.
Having “native-level Mandarin skills” is becoming even more crucial to landing an analyst role in Hong Kong, because most deals involve Chinese clients, especially in capital markets, says Stanley Soh, a Hong Kong-based regional country director of financial services solutions. While most junior positions are “sector agnostic”, deal experience in hot industries such as healthcare, infrastructure and technology will enhance your analyst CV, says Fernando from Robert Walters.
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