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French banks look guilty of hiring and firing in Asia

When BNP Paribas unveiled a S$24m training campus in Singapore back in 2014, it also revealed plans to hire 250 more people locally. Two years later, rival French bank Societe Generale announced it was scaling up in infrastructure, trade finance, project finance, and fixed income and currency sales and trading in the Republic.

While there are still bright spots at French banks in Asia (wealth management at BNP Paribas chief among them), the expansionist rhetoric has largely been toned down. Tepid hiring and – in some cases – fears about future layoffs are now the norm.

SocGen has just announced new plans to shrink its markets business and cut €500 million in costs. Asian trading jobs – in particular those in Hong Kong, SocGen’s regional hub for global markets – are likely to be affected given the severity of the stock market rout in China and Hong Kong last year, says a Hong Kong-based headhunter. BNP Paribas has already shown SocGen the way – it took the axe to Hong Kong traders in 2016 when it cut about 40 jobs in Asian equities.

If SocGen traders are cut, they face a Hong Kong job market which is already oversupplied with talent following widespread trading redundancies at Barclays, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank over the past two years. Chinese banks in the city continue to hire, however, and are typically open to traders from Western firms. Last year Kenneth Taheny, SocGen’s former head of Asia Pacific cash equity sales trading, joined ICBC International in Hong Kong.

In investment banking, neither SocGen nor BNP Paribas enjoyed vintage years for Asian deal making – both finished outside the top-10 firms for overall Asia (ex-Japan) IB revenue in 2018, according to Dealogic. They also missed the cut in M&A, ECM and DCM. As a result, investment banking hiring at the French firms, which both reported their annual results this week, is likely to be “sporadic and subdued” in Hong Kong and Singapore this year, says the Hong Kong headhunter.

SocGen’s 2018 earnings report doesn’t highlight any growth areas in Asia. The region contributed only 17% of the revenues of its Global Markets & Investor Services division last year. BNP Paribas’ report strikes a slightly more upbeat tone in IB, noting that 50 new ‘corporate group’ clients have been onboarded in Asia since 2016.

Where are the jobs at BNP Paribas in Asia?

If you want to work for an expanding division of a French bank in Asia, try BNP Paribas’ private bank. The firm’s earnings report notes “very good asset inflows” in Asian wealth management, and headhunters expect BNP to continue recruiting relationship managers in Singapore and Hong Kong, following a string of senior hires last year. Recent recruits include Vishal Mirpuri from Deutsche Bank, who’s now an MD within BNP’s Hong Kong ultra-high-net-worth team, and former Citi banker Vikas Jaidka, who’s now head of non-resident Indian clients. The hiring is part of BNP’s plan, announced by its wealth co-chief executive Vincent Lecomte in June 2017, to become a top-five private bank in Asia by assets.

Corporate banking at BNP Paribas in Asia, meanwhile, appears to be a stable part of the bank to base yourself in. The French firm highlights “selective growth” in Asia within corporate banking, including “good business development in Asia” for its transaction businesses (cash management and trade finance).

Or you could always work insurance. The product enjoyed “particular good performance” in Asia, according to BNP Paribas’ annual results.

If you want to join BNP Paribas or SocGen in non-grad role without any experience in banking, you will need to be a technologist. Charles Gillet, Societe Generale’s former chief information officer for Asia Pacific, told us in December 2017 that he’s increasingly open to hiring technologists from outside of the banking sector. Gillet recently joined rival BNP as APAC CIO for corporate and institutional banking – and has presumably brought the same hiring philosophy with him.

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Image credit: vkyryl, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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