Bankers bolt from bulge bracket to boutiques in Asia

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This year could see a record number of analysts and associates move from budge-bracket to boutique banks in Asia as junior investment bankers lose their traditional reluctance to leave large IBDs, say headhunters in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Junior bankers in Asia, once obsessed with the perceived career and personal status gained by joining a big-brand Western firm, are now becoming more open to forging careers at boutique investment banks – although making the move is still less common than it is in London or New York and boutiques are still making only a minor impression on financial-advisory league tables for ex-Japan Asia Pacific.

“This year we’re seeing more and more analysts from all functions looking to make a switch. The majority of moves will happen post-bonus, but many candidates are already in the interview process,” says Nicholas Lui, a banking consultant at recruiters Links in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, boutiques are stepping up their Asian hiring. In Hong Kong, the Asian hub for most boutiques, Evercore and Moelis & Co will be among the “most active recruiters” this year, says a Hong Kong-based headhunter who asked to remain anonymous because of client confidentiality. China Renaissance Securities continues to recruit as Yang Diao, the firm’s co-head of investment banking who was poached from J.P. Morgan last year, builds his team.

CLSA is also hiring, following the appointment of former Macquarie banker Andrew Low as its investment-banking head last month. Low has been tasked with expanding the firm into investment banking, building on its current research and broking business.

“[efc_twitter text="All the boutiques that are hiring in HK are keen to take on junior bankers from larger firms"] as they usually have had very good training, and with three or four years' experience they can bring networks and contacts with them,” says Lui

While the pros and cons of working for a boutique are many, headhunters point to a few main factors that are now persuading more junior banker in Asia to attempt the move this year.

“Here in Asia, where job titles and status are particularly important, many candidates are looking for a better title. Boutiques can give them the chance to go a notch up – most commonly from associate to VP – quicker than they would at a larger firm,” says Stanley Teo, a director at Profile Search and Selection in Singapore. “But usually the role is genuinely more senior – there’s more origination work, less execution.”

And as investment bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore become increasingly dependent on building client relationships in mainland China and Southeast Asia respectively, boutiques can provide access to clients earlier on in their careers. “Boutiques offer more in-depth client interactions and deal responsibility to junior bankers,” says Stanley Soh, a Hong Kong-based country director of financial services solutions in Asia.

Junior bankers in Asia are also telling headhunters that they want greater recognition for their work from managers and colleagues. “Many bankers feel overworked and underappreciated as big banks continue to increase spending on regulatory functions and move money away from other areas,” says Lui from Links. “They also think that boutiques offer greater flexibility around the type of work they can do – client coverage, product coverage, research-stock coverage and investment decision making.”

If you want to work at a boutique bank in Asia, what should you be stressing at a job interview? “Emphasise how your particular relationships can add value to the new firm. The boutiques really appreciate it if a candidate has proven strong relationships that they can leverage off as these can often lead to potential deals and partnerships,” says Lui.

Junior bankers in Asia are becoming generally more adventurous with their careers. As we reported earlier this month, an increasing number of them are leaving the banking sector altogether for corporate-development roles at mainland and local companies in Hong Kong.

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