Four banks that are recruiting in Asia and what this means for the job market

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Banks are hiring in Hong Kong and Singapore right now; some are even shouting about it. A flurry of expansion announcements from banks over the past few weeks, presumably designed to coincide with the post-bonus season when candidates are keenest to change companies, is whetting the appetite of job seekers in the region.

As we reported last week, several private banks in Asia are growing the headcounts – they are not alone. Here’s a roundup of some of the other firms that are recruiting, and what their recruitment says about the state of the job market in Asia.

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The news earlier this month that Jefferies is planning expansion in Southeast Asia comes as recruiters have noticed that boutique investment banks in Asia are generally now hiring more people than they were 12 months ago.

“Boutiques are selectively recruiting originators, who also have strong product knowledge, to increase their presence in Asia,” says Hong Kong-based Stanley Soh, regional director of Asian financial services at search firm Global Sage. “They offer an entrepreneurial environment and higher cash payouts to work on more innovative transactions.”

The movement of candidates from the budge bracket to boutiques is also strong at analyst and associate level this year, adds Fraser Douglas, a managing consultant at recruiters Links International in Hong Kong. “Juniors are seeking a less constrained environment with better work-life balance.”

Boutique investment banks aren’t the only ones hiring from the multinationals at the moment – Chinese banks in Hong Kong are doing it too. In a dispute over pay, HSBC's Asian securities unit in Hong Kong reportedly lost dozens of staff earlier this month to both BOC International, the Hong Kong-based offshore IB unit of Bank of China, and China Merchants Securities.

The poaching power of Chinese banks in Hong Kong, a location where money-motivated candidates are renowned for frequently moving jobs, is on the rise this year. “Because bonuses aren’t great at Western financial institutions, Chinese banks can hire just by offering a slightly higher base,” says Jens Soderlund, managing partner at Hong Kong search firm Sirius Partners.

The mean 2013 bonus paid to Hong Kong finance staff ($32.7k) was about three times lower than the $98k average bonus in the UK, according to figures from the eFinancialCareers bonus survey. But if and when bonuses rebound in Hong Kong, will Chinese banks be able to retain the talent they’ve taken on? “I doubt it,” says Soderlund. “All recruiters will eventually approach them when they have positions with Western banks to fill.”

A few Western institutions are already expanding their Asian IBD headcounts – Société Générale is among the outliers. The French bank is selling its Asian private banking business, but is growing its credit and debt capital markets teams, after strong results in the region last year.

Recruiters in Asia who work with French and other European banks say that new European Union bonus rules – which apply globally and cap bonuses at 200% of pay for ‘material risk takers’ – are not in themselves affecting recruitment. Bonuses at non-EU Western banks aren’t high enough this year to give them a competitive advantage. “And also a number of EU banks have adopted measures to alleviate the impact of the EU bonus rules, including salary increase and role-based pay allowances,” says Soh from Global Sage.

Meanwhile, don’t forget Australian banks in Asia – ANZ has been expanding in the region for about five years, now Westpac is following suit, all be it on a smaller scale. Australia’s third-largest lender wants to add 100 employees in Asia annually over the next three years, mainly in wholesale and commercial banking, mainly to tap lucrative trade between China and Australia.

“This hiring is indicative of what’s happening in the banking job market as a whole,” says Damian Babis, director of headhunters Capital People in Hong Kong. “Commercial banking is more active in 2014 than most of the other financial markets. Trade-services related roles are in demand, especially client-facing people who can conduct business in China.”