Never mind the high-profile hires; these are tough times for Asia’s veteran i-bankers

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Star i-bankers aren't necessarily wanted in this market

Citi has been rather preoccupied with shopping for senior talent of late. The bank has recruited more than 35 top bankers (read: director level and above) over the past one year, reports FinanceAsia. The most recent of these is Morgan Stanley veteran Willard McLane, who is now head of investment banking in Southeast Asia and the FIG business.

Employing costly, experienced staff may seem odd when even more lay-offs are expected in Asia. But as one headhunter, who declined to be named, bluntly puts it: “There’s hiring, but there’s also firing going on.” Our source says Citi made about 15 M&A bankers redundant in Hong Kong and eight in Singapore recently. Besides, some of the recent additions were replacement hires.

The current outlook

It’s a tricky employment market for senior investment bankers, says another headhunter, Jansen Gwee, general manager, banking and financial services, InterQuest Asia.

“There are currently more IB candidates than there are jobs. Previously, some firms faced difficulty in getting bankers from the big-name firms because of the difference in branding and salary packages. However, because of ongoing redundancies, firms can now cherry pick from a wider selection of senior-level people.”

Mid-level folk are preferred

Broadly speaking, current demand for those at director-level and above isn’t huge. Christina Ng, associate director of the financial services division, Robert Walters Singapore, adds: “If these bankers are involved in new business or the development of new products, they may be particularly vulnerable, especially since clients’ risk appetites have gone down and banks may not be focusing on these ne, or possibly high-risk, products at this point in time.”

Instead, given the focus on cost and salaries, she expects employers to concentrate on mid-level talent who are able to bring in revenue.

Going universal

Some skilled candidates have chosen to leave i-banks for integrated universal banks (in the vein of Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered).

Pernille Storm, managing director, ALS International, is seeing more of these moves as investment banking products become more commoditised. “The universal banking model provides senior bankers with access to the balance sheet, which is important to clients in this tough environment.”

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