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Hong Kong: 2008 year in review

Good(ish) year

Experienced private bankers (with loads of AUM)

The ranks of high-net-worth Hong Kongers and Chinese continued to swell in 2008, so private bankers weren't laid off in quite the same numbers as their i-banking brothers. But in contrast to 2007 (when firms were desperate enough to hire second-rate priority bankers) only experienced wealth managers were in demand in 2008. The hiring theme was simple: give us your clients, give us their AUM, and we'll give you a job. "It's a buyers market so employers are being picky, and demanding a very strong and consistent work history with reputable companies as a prerequisite to employment," says Emma Charnock, regional director of recruitment firm Hays in Hong Kong.

Insurance

AIG aside, insurance firms actually managed to poach from the banks this year. Market growth in their industry and the slump in banking meant insurers were able to add headcount. "This has resulted in a wide range of positions being available across all disciplines," says Andrea Williams, Hong Kong managing director at recruiters Ambition. "Roles have been available at all levels, both locally focused and regional roles. Towards the second half of 2008 in particular, the insurance industry has been able to capitalise on the significant downturn in business and hiring activity in the investment banking field and has attracted some outstanding talent," she adds. Good on ya, credit crunch.

Fund accountants

Regardless of performance, private equity firms and hedge funds still need to report results to their investors. "Good fund accountants in Asia are still very rare and demand by far outstrips supply," says Matthew Hoyle, director of headhunter Matthew Hoyle International.

Bad year

Leverage finance...

As the whipping boys of the post-Lehman front office, 2008 was an annus horribilis for those in the leverage finance world. Very few banks were prepared to lend money, no matter how potentially profitable the return, leaving lev fin folks with, well, not that much to do. "Leverage Finance has been one of the worst affected areas in banking," says Charnock.

...and friends

Of course leverage finance wasn't the only credit crunched job sector. It was joined by other sub-prime stragglers such as: "anything to do with asset backed finance - simply due to the fact that there isn't any more cheap money sloshing around the world," says Hoyle. Richie Holliday, managing director of Morgan McKinley's Hong Kong office, adds collateralised debt, and sales and trading to the list. Not to forget M&A, corporate finance, ECM and DCM. Almost the entire i-banking universe has a shocker in '08.

Operations

There was no hiding in the back office this year as firms moved fast to cull their cost centres. Most banks targeted ops roles first as the financial crisis hit home in Hong Kong.

"The volume of operations positions were the first to decrease in 2008 with many candidates unable to secure new employment even before the harsher conditions post-September," says Williams.

The frightening fourth quarter

Think the fourth quarter in the average year is a slow time for financial recruitment as firms finalise budgets and staff wait for new year bonuses? How about Q4 08?! Throw in total hiring freezes and mass redundancies, and you might just have the worst three months ever for the Hong Kong employment market. "The collapse of several large global financial institutions brought with it unprecedented circumstances within both the financial services industry and recruitment within the sector. As a result, during the fourth quarter, new job growth has continued to slow," says Holliday.

Hedge funds

Aren't hedge funds meant to thrive in a bear market? Aren't bankers supposed to seek sanctuary in the buy side? Seems not. In 2008 the hedgies were flocking to cut headcount or leave Hong Kong altogether. GSA Capital, Citadel and Ramius were just some of the high profile victims of rising redemptions. "Even the guys who are making money are being redeemed, so a lot of funds are hurting," says Hoyle.

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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