Barclays tipped to start hiring bankers again in Asia this year

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Following savage Asian job cuts at Barclays in 2016, headhunters now say the firm’s front-office in Singapore and Hong is looking more stable and hiring is on the cards, albeit on a small scale.

Last year Barclays shuttered cash equities in Asia, sold its Asian private banking unit to OCBC, and closed offices in Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea. About 1,000 jobs were lost in the process.

In recent weeks, however, there have been some positive murmurings from the bank, which has pared back its Asian operations to just four markets – Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and India – and is now focused on connecting these countries to its core UK and US businesses.

“Where we will grow [in Asia], we will grow in the businesses that we already have. We have a strong global markets business. We have a corporate finance advisory business, and the capital markets business. These businesses will grow,” Barclays Asia Pacific co-head Jaideep Khanna told the Nikkei Asian Review earlier this month.

Although Khanna did not set out hiring numbers, his comments chime with those of two Hong Kong headhunters we spoke with.

One of the recruiters (who both asked to remain anonymous) says Barclays is likely to have “a handful” of advisory and capital markets roles in the second half of the year when its Asian strategy beds down.

Bankers who join Barclays under its new Asian regime are unlikely to be working on intra-regional deals or those involving non-British or American companies.

“The ideal candidates for Barclays in Hong Kong or Singapore would be those who understand US/UK markets and can bring US/UK opportunities to Asian clients,” says Eric Sim, a former head of structured solutions at Citi and ANZ, now a Adjunct Associate Professor of Finance at HKUST.

“Most global banks in Asia can no longer serve every type of client, so it’s natural to focus on specific groups, whose needs are in areas where banks have competitive advantages,” says Sim.

Any Barclays hiring this year is likely to be “lean” rather than “a full blown expansion”, says Yvette Kwan, a former APAC investment banking COO at UBS, now a partner at Hong Kong finance consultancy Quinlan & Associates “But its follow-the-client approach does have a higher chance of succeeding.”

“For UK-to-Asia business, it will be important to hire investment bankers who understand corporate banking, know British clients, and can break down divisional silos,” she adds. “For Asia to the UK and US, Barclays can expect a lot of competition from other banks.”

However, one of the headhunters we spoke with says Barclays may struggle to attract leading bankers to its ranks because it’s now too much of a niche player in Asia.

“Without an equities franchise in Asia, Barclays is now a third-tier firm in traditional IB here. It has a small M&A business and a second-tier DCM one, which doesn't pay much in fees,” he says.

The bank ranks outside the top-10 for ex-Japan Asia investment banking fees in the first quarter of 2017 and comes in ninth position when China onshore deals are excluded, according to Dealogic.

Barclays, which is currently hiring investment bankers in the UK and US, declined to comment on its Asian recruitment plans.

Image credit: Alphotographic, Getty

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