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Asian bankers want big bonuses, but will global banks come to the payment party?

We probably won't know the answer until Q1, but it's a debate that is starting to ignite the employment market: will Asian employees of international banks take a hit on their bonuses because of slumping revenues in the West, or will their payments be ringfenced to reflect rising deal making in Asia?

IPOs in ex-Japan Asia, for example, have totaled US$100.5bn so far this year, up from $36.9bn billion in the same period in 2009, and topping the $59.1bn raised between January and October 2007 when share issues were booming, according to Dealogic.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given such positive market news in Asia, 71 and 69 per cent of financial services professionals in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively think their 2010 bonus will be better than their 2009 bonus, according to the Global Bonus Expectation Survey, which eFinancialCareers carried out last month.

But whether banks headquartered in the US or Europe will be able to meet these great Asian expectations is open to question, given poor Q3 global results from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. In response to slow trading, Goldman sharply reduced its bankers' pay pool in the third quarter, bringing the amount of revenues it earmarks for employees to a record low.

However, one headhunter, who asked not to be named, says their comparative success will give the Asian businesses of global banks "a degree of independence" when it comes to setting bonuses.

And banks will be wary about trimming bonuses too much - especially in job functions which are in demand - at a time when retention remains a priority in Asia. They will want to avoid opening the attrition floodgates early next year when staff have secured their payments.

For example, although UBS reported a US$412m pre-tax loss in its investment banking business on Tuesday, when it comes to remuneration the firm seems willing to decouple that troubled division from its talent-hungry Asian private bank.

Speaking to analysts during an earnings call, UBS Chief Financial Officer, John Cryan, remarked: "We are hiring more onshore wealth management staff in more expensive locations. There has certainly been some inflation in the personnel expenses particularly in Asia, where the market for wealth management client advisers in particular is quite hot."

Cryan continued: "We are a living example of a bank that experimented with not paying people and it didn't come off very well in 2008. And as a consequence, we know that we are bound to pay people, to some extent, regardless of the performance of the bank, whether we retain their services isn't at issue, but if we retain them we have to pay them to some extent."

However, even in Asia it is doubtful that banks will be splashing too much actual cash within their bonuses. "Although bonuses here might well be higher this year, we will see more being deferred and made up of a greater percentage of shares," says the anonymous headhunter.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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