Only five people make the cut: brutal hiring in Singapore private equity

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Only five people make the cut: brutal hiring in Singapore private equity

Forget fintech; many young bankers in Singapore still see private equity as providing the most desirable option for making an early career change. The good news for them is that PE firms are hiring juniors in the Republic, although they are doing so very selectively.

The continued enthusiasm for PE careers comes as the sector shows resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic. Singapore was the only market in Southeast Asia to register growth in private equity deals and deal value in 2020, according to a new report by Bain & Company.

An analyst at a European bank in Singapore says he is aiming for a buy-side move because he believes that private equity offers easier hours, better compensation in the long term, and possibly more interesting work. “Some junior bankers don’t see themselves as career bankers, so the PE route is a good alternative which requires similar skill sets, especially if you join at a junior level,” he says.

A young finance professional who’s already moved into PE says he’s enjoying broader work responsibilities. “In investment banking, I’d have a consistent routine focused on very specific tasks, mainly Excel models and pitch books. In private equity, I’m empowered to get involved in everything across the whole scope of the fund – from financial modeling to execution structuring to quarterly reporting – under the supervision of just one or two managers,” he adds.

The larger global private equity firms in Singapore – in particular TPG Capital, KKR, Warburg Pincus, and Oaktree Capital – are regularly interviewing junior bankers and M&A specialists from the Big Four, say headhunters. Earlier this month, for example, Credit Suisse M&A associate Sebastian Seow Wei Han joined KKR as a private equity associate. Other juniors who’ve moved to PE during the pandemic include TPG’s Malvin Pranoto, formerly an associate in the Asian special situations group at Goldman Sachs.

Juniors should also consider applying to local funds, the larger of which include Dymon Asia Private Equity, ADV Partners, ACA Investments, Capital Square Partners, Tembusu Partners, Credence Partners, and Tin Men Capital. Earlier this year, PwC’s Junyi Loo left to become an investment associate at Capital Square Partners.

Meanwhile, some private equity firms in Singapore are trying to grow their own talent. Students Khloe Kexin Wang and Jonathan Chia are currently interning at Tembusu Partners and Tin Men Capital, respectively.

No matter the route you try to take, breaking into private equity as a junior remains notoriously tough. Even the most prominent PE players have comparatively small Singapore headcounts and hire only one to three juniors a year, says Will Tan, managing partner at Principle Partners. Moreover, headhunters typically compile small shortlists of about five people per vacancy.

“We have to proactively search for and stay in touch with a diverse talent pool, including Asians based overseas. PE firms only want the best people from top banks and top schools,” says Tan.

This can heap pressure on new joiners. “PE firms don’t hire many grads, so the senior investment professionals I work with aren’t used to dealing with young people like me. When I started here just over a year ago, colleagues didn’t lower their expectations. ‘Can you do a valuation summary over the weekend?’ The only answer is yes,” says the private equity junior.

If you want to line yourself up for a career in Singapore private equity, the internet and technology sector is dominant in terms of deal value, according to Bain. Healthcare is starting to see a noticeable share of the PE market, and digital health services are expected to see continued growth across Southeast Asia in the next three to five years.

Photo by Stefan K on Unsplash

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