Published July 18, 2009

Guess who's back in demand?

Banks have started hiring investment bankers and private bankers again


INVESTMENT bankers and private bankers are getting job offers again as the big turnaround in financial markets makes more banks refill their decimated ranks.

The demand for bankers, while it is pretty selective, has led to some bidding wars, even for unemployed bankers.

'It's a funny business, isn't it? . . . Eight months ago, the end of the world was nigh. Now, firms are offering guarantees, talking about record quarters . . . what a roller coaster,' said James Rushworth, managing director of headhunting firm ProfileAsia.

'I know of a few cases of retrenched bankers where there is a bidding war. They're offering more money than previously earned,' said Mr Rushworth.

Headhunters stressed that the hiring is selective and candidates are senior bankers who have proven track records of making profits for their employers before the credit markets seized up in 2007.

'The underlying markets have turned around big time. Asian bond markets are having record new issue volumes and the major Asian equity markets have also enjoyed a very significant recovery in the last few months,' said Andrew Price, director, banking & finance, at Global Search Partners Pte Ltd.

This month, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) took on half a dozen people to grow its Asian equities business. Five are Hong Kong-based and one is for its Singapore office, according to a bank spokeswoman.

Its private bank, RBS Coutts, is also hiring. 'We have been hiring on a selective basis across Asia and are constantly on the lookout for quality talent.

We expect to increase the pace of hiring when clear evidence of a sustained recovery emerges,' said an RBS Coutts spokesman.

Merrill Lynch, which was taken over by Bank of America in January, has taken in some 100 people in the last 10 weeks.

'I know someone who was getting worried as he found himself the only person left in his team. Then new people started coming in,' said a source.

Ki Myung Hong, Asia-Pacific president of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a Bloomberg interview last month that the bank hired more than 100 workers in the region since March amid signs that trading, stock sales and acquisitions were recovering.

Bank of America, Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Credit Suisse Group AG and Citigroup Inc were among global banks that fired workers in Asia in the first quarter. Worldwide, more than 320,000 financial-services jobs have been lost since the global credit contagion started to spread in mid-2007.

At Deutsche Bank, there has been no let-up in hiring in the Asia Pacific, with the bank using the opportunity to pick senior bankers from rivals, said a spokesman.

Deutsche Bank was a net hirer in 2008 in both the Asia Pacific and globally, he said.

It ended 2008 with a net increase of 2,046 employees to 17,126 in the region, up from 15,080 at end-2007. Globally, there was a net increase of 2,165 employees to finish 2008 with 80,456 people, up from 78,300 at end-2007, he said.

'In 2009, Deutsche Bank continues to hire in the Asia Pacific, capitalising on its relative strength as an institution to attract high-calibre new hires to key roles, particularly in its investment banking businesses,' he said.

Businesses are optimistic about Asia's growth opportunities in mergers and acquisitions and wealth management, unlike the low-growth Western markets, said Na Boon Chong, director, Aon Consulting.

'Thus, those financial institutions that are committed to the Asian markets would likely ramp up to catch the opportunities as they arise,' he said.

In private banking, recruitment here last quarter recovered from the serious problems encountered in Q1 but is still not back to anything like the level in previous years when 'the larger private banks were doubling their staff in Singapore nearly every year', said Mr Price.

Private banks are using the situation to take on senior bankers who can bring serious money with them and are willing to offer pay guarantees, he said.

'Generally, everyone seems to be looking for only the most senior relationship managers (RMs) who manage US$200 million and above,' said Mr Price.

'Only for the most senior RMs with assets under management greater than US$200 million, Julius Baer, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Sarasin, Clariden Leu, Standard Chartered, Pictet and EFG are all willing to provide guarantees for seasoned proven performers,' he said.

But junior RMs are not entirely left out in the cold. 'Some of the RMs who were retrenched recently have found new homes in the local banks,' said Mr Price.

OCBC is selectively adding new people at all units of the bank, said Koh Ching Ching, its head of group corporate communications.

'As part of our hiring process, we have always looked at the individual's qualifications and working experience to ensure his/her skill sets are relevant for the position,' said Ms Koh.