Hong Kong’s CLSA set to increase headcount by up to 10% in the U.S.

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Like other Asian firms, Hong Kong-based CLSA is focusing its expansion plans in the West, particularly in the U.S. The brokerage firm plans to increase headcount between 5% and 10% in the U.S. in 2015, on top of the roughly 180 staffers that it already employs in the region, Rick Gould, CEO of CLSA Americas, told us.

Gould said that the anticipated hires will focus on the firm’s three core businesses: research, sales and trading, with much of the hiring expected to occur at CLSA’s New York branch. The firm has already made additions in Boston and San Francisco.

In December, Andrew Low, CLSA’s then-incoming head international investment banking, told Bloomberg that the brokerage firm would like to expand into other areas of banking, including M&A and equity capital markets.

Gould suggested that CLSA isn’t quite at that stage in the U.S. “All I can tell you is what we are working on now. We have ambitions down the road but we need to focus on our basic businesses first,” he said.

But Gould made it clear that the region is a real focus for CLSA, a firm now backed by China’s Citic Securities, which acquired it back in 2013. “Everyone who wants to be a major player needs a strong footprint in North America,” he said. “That is something we are focusing on. I feel as if we have underinvested in North America.”

CLSA, along with other firms like Standard Chartered and Nomura, have been cutting back in Asia, which has proven to be a less fertile climate than the U.S. and Europe, at least over the last two years. The firm reportedly cut 25 jobs in Asia in January, mostly in equities.

Asked how CLSA can recruit against other top-tier banks with deeper roots in the U.S., Gould pointed to the opportunities created by the firm’s footprint in Asia. The goodwill and strong relationships it’s built up with clients that have a presence here give the firm a unique advantage, he says.

"We are building something really terrific at CLSA in North America.  I think if you have a passion for finance, follow the markets and have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to help build a business – all with the financial support of a large corporate parent – CLSA is the place for you,” Gould added.

As for what they are looking for in new hires, Gould pointed to culture and passion. “At the end of the day, you need to be incredibly passionate,” he said. “You either love it when the environment is good, bad or indifferent, or you kind of run the other way.”

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