The senior specialist banking career in high demand in Singapore and Hong Kong

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While stable senior careers in Asian investment banking are increasingly hard to come by – as we noted yesterday, banks are keener to hire juniors – financial institutions group (FIG) jobs are a welcome exception.

Global banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are increasingly hiring senior FIG bankers to help them handle mergers and share sales from expansionist Asian financial institutions.

Investment banking revenues for advising financial institutions in ex-Japan Asia Pacific totalled US$824m in the first half of this year, making FIG the second largest fee-earning sector behind industrials, according to data provider Dealogic.

“Fees from FIG are a consistent and major source of income for most investment banks and hiring in FIG should remain strong in the medium and long-term,” says Rafael Brana, a consultant at search firm Bo Le Associates in Hong Kong. “As the Asian middle class continues to grow they will demand more services from financial institutions, and this is underpinning the sector’s growth.”

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Hiring in Asian FIG is mainly at director level and above, says Miles Henderson, managing director at headhunters Castle Peak in Hong Kong.

The FIG talent pool is small in Asia and banks typically poach senior professionals from competitors, says Stanley Soh, director of financial services at search firm Global Sage in Hong Kong. “Bankers with transferable client relationships are in great demand. As Asian banks and insurance firms are both undergoing consolidation, FIG bankers with expertise in both sectors are of high value.”

The Asian FIG scene witnessed a remarkable senior merry-go-round earlier this month. Bank of America Merrill Lynch poached Mayank Saxena from Credit Suisse as head of its Southeast Asia financial institutions group. The move came just days after the Swiss firm hired Sharhan Muhseen from BoAML as its FIG head for Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, also this month, Deutsche Bank has poached Tan Boon-Kee from Goldman Sachs as head of Southeast Asia client coverage, also responsible for FIG in the region, while Natixis appointed former HSBC banker Eddie Leung as regional head of insurance coverage for Asia Pacific.

“We have recently seen movement in both China and Southeast Asia, and sector coverage likewise across the board,” says Henderson. “Some of the people who had moved from insurance companies into sell-side roles in markets are now migrating into relationship-management functions, where they have broader revenue responsibilities than a narrow global-markets products focus.”

HSBC, Standard Chartered and Societe Generale are among the other banks growing their senior ranks in Asian FIG, according to another Hong Kong headhunter, who asked not to be named.

Global banks are looking to cash in on the increasing number of Asian financial institutions expanding outside of their home markets. BoAML is advising OCBC on its $5bn bid for Hong Kong’s Wing Hang Bank, the largest ever acquisition by a Singaporean bank. Other high-profile deals in the pipeline include the proposed merger of three Malaysian banks, CIMB Group, RHB Capital and MBSB.

“FIG has seen a lot of change recently. Much of this has revolved around changing the more traditional relationships officers in the commercial banks – historically responsible for credit work and line allocation – into more commercially minded people, often coming from a sales or investment banking background,” says Henderson from Castle Peak. “People of the calibre of Jeremy Amias at Standard Chartered and Simon Derrick at HSBC are symptomatic of this development and we have seen this senior-level hiring gravitate down to the director and VP ranks in recent months."