Bank of America Hires Dozens in Asia, Australia to Revive Merrill Brand

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Bank of America joins a growing list of financial institutions hiring in Asia to capitalize on the region's renewed growth. Aiming to restore the prominence Merrill Lynch enjoyed in Asia and Australia before it was absorbed by BofA, the bank reportedly has poached dozens of employees at all levels from various firms in recent weeks.

According to Reuters, BofA's Asia hires run the gamut from equity derivatives to real estate to fixed income and commodity trading to M&A advisory for financial sponsors. The newswire says the hiring spree comes as both a surprise to rivals and "a welcome sign for Merrill veterans in Asia who worried their new owner would fail to spend time or money to revive the Asia Pacific business."

Few if any new Asian slots will go to U.S.-based professionals, however. BofA is following the typical practice of hiring from local rivals rather than relocating people from outside the region.

Wide Rang of Institutions Ramping Up in Asia

Bank management may have little choice in view of Asia's speedy recovery from the financial crisis and presumptive status as the world's leading growth engine this decade. On Wednesday, Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit told the Financial Times that Citi intends to expand across the Asia-Pacific region this year. JPMorgan Chase is initially focusing its new global corporate bank on China and India (along with Brazil). Several well-known U.S. and UK hedge fund groups as well as banks in Spain, Australia and South Korea are said to be opening offices in China and Hong Kong, investing in local banks or relocating executives to the region.

Rather than cost-cutting, the moves aim to gain business from wealthy Asian investors and the growing volume of trade among Asian economies. "We've rebounded far quicker than anybody else and there is money being spent here, so every bank wants to make the most out of that opportunity," recruiter Andrea Williams of Ambition in Hong Kong told Reuters.

Naming Names

While the Asia growth story largely centers on China, many recent BofA hires Reuters cites are located in Australia. They include:

- A team of 10 Royal Bank of Scotland fixed income, currency and commodities traders led by Chris Thomas.

- A real estate research team led by Simon Garing, hired away from local broker Bell Potter Securities.

- Another real estate group led by Darren Rehn, hired away from UBS. That followed BofA Merrill's replacement of its Australia chief executive Paul Masi by newly hired ex-Goldman Sachs banker Craig Drummond in September 2009.

In Hong Kong, Chris Gammons, formerly of Citigroup, is set to join BofA as Asia-Pacific head of financial sponsors in March. Rajesh Melwani reportedly is coming over from UBS to head Asia-Pacific equity derivatives sales. And the bank is said to be hiring many investment bankers in China, where it lost some top talent last year, according to Reuters.

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