Market update: Malaysia’s prolific investment banking boom

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It's a good time to be a Malaysian investment banker

Investment bankers are thriving in South East Asia, particularly in Malaysia. This year, the country boasts two of the three largest IPOs in the world: IHH Healthcare, which raised US$2bn in a dual listing in both Malaysia and Singapore, and Felda’s Global Ventures, a Malaysian palm oil producer, which raised US$3.3bn in June.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that new shares that started to trade in Malaysia have gained an average of 29 per cent, compared with a 14 per cent decline for Hong Kong listings. That’s not all – cross border acquisitions in South East Asia have reached a record US$26.2bn to date; more than double last year’s figures.

Generous pay increases

What do the higher levels of market activity really mean for investment bankers in Malaysia? Salary rises can certainly be generous when switching firms. One recruiter, who declined to be named, says he’s seen pay increases of 30 to 50 per cent for strong candidates.

Another headhunter, Simon Gregory, General Manager of Talent2 Malaysia Executive Recruitment, says: “Front-office roles are especially in demand. Islamic banking is also another attractive option for Malaysia’s i-bankers, with a large proportion of the world’s Islamic investments coming through Malaysia, so it’s a big market and it continues to get bigger, putting increasing stress on the already shallow talent pool.”

The headache of skills shopping

High-profile IPOs, along with market demand for more complex and sophisticated investment banking products, have certainly caused a talent crunch. This is exacerbated by the difficulties of recruiting foreign bankers.

Bank Negara prioritises local talent and firms need to provide strong justification if candidates are imported, says our anonymous recruiter. Some senior professionals come from overseas, but they typically make up less than 5 per cent of the staff population, adds our source. “These expat bankers are typically heads of department and are in business-critical roles. It’s rare to see people brought in at the manager or VP level, unless they are married to a Malaysian or have internally transferred within their existing firms.”


Gregory says: “Returnee Malaysian bankers from the UK and US help create more supply. However, there are challenges in placing them in the market. For instance, these bankers may have worked in specialised roles overseas, but such jobs may not exist in Malaysia because the country’s platform and products aren’t as sophisticated."

Compensation is another tricky hurdle as returnees may have to accept a pay cut, but the cost of living is lower. "There are other considerations, for instance, bankers may want to move back to be closer to their families.”

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