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The region where you’d rather be a corporate banker than an i-banker

Corporate banking: hot in Asia

If you’re looking for a front-office banking role in Asia, you might be focused on the job market being exceedingly hot in private banking and patchy at best in investment banking.

Between these two glamorous extremes, however, there’s a lot of hiring happening in steady-eddy corporate banking. Banks in Asia are clamouring for relationship managers to service this comparatively low-risk part of their business, with hiring driven by the growing transactional demands of Asian corporations.

Here’s our guide to finding a job in corporate banking in Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

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Hong Kong

How’s the job market? Relationship-management roles in corporate banking and trade finance are keeping recruiters busy in the territory this year. “Generally these have veered towards the senior end of the scale, with a focus on Chinese corporate coverage,” said Philip Quinn, managing consultant, banking and finance, at recruitment agency Kelly Services in Hong Kong.

Indeed, corporate-banking hiring in Hong Kong is now effectively being driven by China. “Hong Kong's banking system is changing rapidly as banks increase their China-related lending and Hong Kong companies derive an increasing part of their business from the cross-border trade and investments of Chinese corporations,” said Kirstin MacLaren, director of Michael Page Financial Services in Hong Kong. “Trade finance and syndication loans are the major products generating the businesses revenue.”

Who’s hiring? Experienced RMs can choose from a veritable buffet of banks – including global players Citi and HSBC – eager to add more revenue-generators to their ranks. But now more than ever, mainland-headquartered firms like Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China are flexing their hiring muscles in Kong Kong. “Chinese banks are also expanding their international footprint on the back of the RMB’s internationalisation in recent years, especially in Hong Kong, which is a RMB hub,” Quinn said.

Jobs for i-bankers? As we reported earlier this year, the number of investment bankers applying for corporate-banking positions is on the rise in Hong Kong. But recruiters say that not many of them have actually made the transition.

Jobs for expats? Not in the front-office (try risk or compliance). In Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, many RMs now need to also speak Mandarin to converse with clients in mainland China. “Banks are also looking to hire people with a proven knowledge and track record in the Greater China market,” MacLaren from Michael Page said.

What’s the salary? For a relationship manager with eight or more years’ experience: US$115k  to $195k a year, according to the Robert Walters 2013 salary survey.


How’s the job market? Foreign banks in mainland China are engaged in an ongoing battle for relationship managers and professionals in trade finance and cash management, according to Shanghai-based Monica Song, manager, banking and financial services, at recruiters Hudson. “RMs at VP or director-level, focusing on state-owned clients, are in demand, especially in the energy, mining, and resources industries,” added Simon Lance, regional director of recruitment firm Hays in China. “A major driver is the increasing outbound M&A demands of Chinese state-owned energy and resources companies.”

Who’s hiring? Demand for RMs is coming from “aggressive second-tier” international banks, rather than from more established foreign players like HSBC and Standard Chartered, said a recruiter in Shanghai who asked not to be named. BNP Paribas and Australia's ANZ, banks which we’ve previously referenced for their Asian expansion plans, are both recruiting RMs in China. “With the large foreign banking players, there is greater hiring demand in second- and third-tier cities than in Shanghai and Beijing,” Lance added.

Jobs for i-bankers? “More and more investment bankers are expressing interest in moving to corporate banking, in roles where they can still utilise their IB knowledge and client network,” Lance said. For example, Song has seen a few DCM i-bankers moving into syndication roles in corporate banking.

Jobs for expats? Predictably, China is not a happy hunting ground for overseas-based corporate bankers – even internal transfers are tricky. Front-office openings are limited to candidates who have dealt with Chinese state-owned-enterprises while overseas, Lance from Hays said. “We are receiving an increasing number of resumes from Western-based candidates, from fresh graduates to senior bankers. However, Mandarin is the barrier; we have not placed any candidates who cannot speak Mandarin,” Song from Hudson added.

What’s the salary? For a corporate banker with eight or more years’ experience: upwards of US$90k a year, according to the Robert Walters 2013 salary survey.


How’s the job market? Mid- to senior-level relationship managers are most sought after, according to Farida Charania, chief executive officer, banking and finance, at search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore. Hot sectors for RMs in Singapore include agribusiness, transportation, commodities and real estate. Behind the scenes, banks are also increasing their hiring of credit analysts, added Anita Gerry Sim, practice leader, financial services, at recruiters AYP Asia Group in Singapore.

Who’s hiring? Standard Chartered and the Singaporean banks DBS, OCBC and UOB are four of the largest (and most obvious) recruiters. But, as in China, ANZ is also hiring, as is fellow Australian firm Westpac. Japan’s Mizuho Corporate Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, are also looking to expand, said a recruiter in Singapore who asked not to be named. “The major reason is because Japanese banks are using Singapore as a regional HQ for Asia outside of Japan. They are hiring for positions ranging from front-office RMs to middle-office risk management,” she added.

Jobs for i-bankers? Despite redundancies in investment banking, recruiters in Singapore say very few i-bankers have moved into corporate banking.

Jobs for expats? “If it’s a role dealing with Western companies and Western CFOs, there is still demand for Western corporate bankers,” said a recruiter in Singapore who asked not to be named. Otherwise bankers with a Southeast Asian clientele hold the trump cards.

What’s the salary? For a relationship manager, VP to director level: US$135k to $240k a year, according to the Robert Walters 2013 salary survey.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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