If you want a job at Goldman Sachs in Asia this year, avoid Singapore-based advisory roles. Job losses since January have seen the firm’s investment banking team there shrink from 45 to 30 staff.
These cuts, however, aren’t reflective of a wider pull-back from either Singapore or Hong Kong. Goldman remains a major employer in both markets and retains an “unrivalled” ability to attract candidates, say headhunters.
While at least three of the 15 departing bankers – Hsin Yue Yong, head of Southeast Asia IBD, Ruben Bhagobati, head of M&A for Southeast Asia, and MD Antoine Izard – are in the senior ranks, their loss only puts a small dent in Goldman’s Singapore headcount. The bank has about 800 staff in Singapore, 300 of whom work in frontline jobs – mainly in its securities business, which includes debt, equity, FX, sales and trading. Its Hong Kong headcount, which is more IBD-focused, is roughly double that of Singapore – and it employs about 5,000 people across Asia (excluding India-based operations and IT roles).
“Goldman is still Goldman in Asia – it’s big, it’s very sought after," says a Hong Kong headhunter who asked not to be named because of client confidentiality. "In the scheme of things those Singapore cuts are fairly isolated and have been brewing for a while – they’re related to revenue in that particular advisory team covering Southeast Asia.” So far this year Goldman Sachs ranks a lowly 11th in Southeast Asian M&A advisory, according to figures provided by Bloomberg. In 2014 it was still only in 6th position, behind J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, Citi, Barclays and CIMB.
In Hong Kong, by contrast, Goldman Sachs topped the 2014 M&A tables and it hasn’t made Singapore-style cuts to its advisory team. “Other than trimming underperformers like every other bank does each year, Goldman hasn’t been making any big strategic redundancies in Hong Kong M&A or other departments,” says Rafael Brana, a consultant at search firm Bo Le Associates in Hong Kong.
“Goldman and most other banks are maintaining their current IBD headcounts in Hong Kong,” adds Hubert Tam, managing partner at Hong Kong headhunters Sirius Partners. “There’s not that much hiring or firing going on – it’s a quiet job market.”
When Goldman does hire in Asia, though, its ability to attract the best candidates is as strong as ever. “Being a Goldman banker offers the type of prestige value that can be very important to some job seekers in Hong Kong – it’s still hard to obtain the same level of prestige at other houses,” say Tam.
“When I leave a message for a potential candidate about a role at Goldman in Hong Kong the level of call-backs I get is remarkable – it still has an allure that’s unrivalled by other banks,” says the anonymous headhunter. “But Goldman is a demand client. They interview so many people and they can hold out to get the perfect person – they can afford to pick and choose.”
Another headhunter, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says Goldman’s ability to retain staff in Hong Kong is not what it was. “I’ve spoken to candidates who say that because Goldman’s salary and bonus premium has fallen recently and its working hours are so long, they join to get its brand value on their CV and then move on after two or three years.”