Finance Jobs Outlook Jan 27 2012

Asia Beckons Finance Pros

By ralph jennings

After a late slump last year, financial institutions in Asia will gingerly resume hiring this year as the region leads an otherwise battered world job market.

The main areas of growth include corporate finance, fund-raising and wealth management, particularly among institutions with clients in China, recruiters say. Private banking, asset management and the Chinese yuan bond businesses are also hiring.

"The need for financial services will continue to remain robust, " said Lee Quane, Asia regional director with the job placement firm ECA International in Hong Kong. "This is in line with the general growth of the Asia region."

Recruiters predict that the number of finance jobs in Asia will grow by as much as 10% this year, with certain regions growing faster than others. A May forecast from the United Nations said overall employment will grow by 7% in Japan, Korea and China and by 7.2% in India and the surrounding countries. That compares with a 3.2% growth rate globally for all industries.

The region suffered a hiccup late last year when institutions put Asia IPO and equities work on hold after investors got scared by sovereign debt issues in Europe and lagging recovery in the U.S., said Nick Lambe, Hong Kong managing director with the recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley. China's CITIC and Sany Heavy Industry, among others, delayed listings, affecting work at banks such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Bank of China and CLSA.

The European debt crisis forced European and North American investment banks to cut jobs in Asia as well, Lambe said. Analysts lost jobs in "pockets," and some cuts are ongoing, he said. Bank of America Merrill Lynch laid off front-office staff, for instance, while MF Global closed its Hong Kong operation after going bankrupt in October. Numerous firms in Singapore, the hub of Southeast Asian finance, have frozen hiring through early 2012.

This year, about 35% of financial firms in Hong Kong plan to reduce staff in some areas while hiring in other areas, according to Morgan McKinley surveys. Twenty-nine percent said they would only hire and 6% said they weren't sure. In Japan, 43% of employers said they expect to hire in some areas of business this year and cut in other areas, while 35% were unsure, the surveys showed.

Unsurprisingly, China is the brightest spot for jobs. Financial institutions in China will each add 100 to 1,000 jobs this year, says Vivian Ng, managing director of Morgan McKinley in Shanghai, with plans expected to be announced in early February. Major houses such as HSBC and Credit Suisse aren't ruling out increases this year despite global cuts last year. "We continue to invest for growth in businesses and markets," says HSBC spokeswoman Margrit Chang.

Five years ago, I got phone calls from employers while working. Now, people are uncertain.

Recruiters expect more hiring by Western boutique-style banks and investment banks from Malaysia, South Korea and Russia as they build small, elite staffs that can work with China.

"We hired people very aggressively in Hong Kong over the last two years," said Jinho Kim, spokesman for Samsung Securities of South Korea. The firm employs 130 in Hong Kong; its hiring plans for this year are still under review.

Houlihan Lokey, the Los Angeles boutique investment bank, plans to continuing hiring at its offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. "I'm going over in February to do a bunch of interviews," Scott Adelson, global co-head of corporate finance, recently told FINS.

Compliance and back-office jobs are likely to increase across the region, recruiters say.

When it comes to pay, however, job consultants say raises and bonuses in Asia are being held back just as they are in Europe and the U.S. Surveys by recruiter Robert Walters found that pay in markets from Hong Kong to Malaysia changed little last year. Junior analysts in Tokyo saw salaries actually fall to between 6 million and 8 million yen ($77,200 to $102,800) from 6 million to 9 million yen in 2010, the recruiter found.

Despite relatively tepid pay and job prospects in Asia compared to years past, employers are just as demanding when it comes to qualifications. In Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, candidates for front-office positions need Ivy League business degrees and five to 10 years of experience, recruiters say.

Job seekers in China also must understand the country's opaque deal-making process and speak Mandarin. Such requirements favor Chinese nationals with overseas degrees.

Bahasa speakers have a lead, as well, said John Mullally, manager of financial services with Robert Walters in Hong Kong: "Malaysia and Indonesia are currently experiencing a shortage of talent as many foreign candidates are facing language and cultural difficulties while securing jobs in these countries."

Mergers-and-acquisitions "rainmakers" are particularly prized in Asia, said Mark Holdich, associate director with recruitment consultancy Argyll Scott International.

But it's still dry for many. Scott Weaver, 48, an American-born oils and petrochemicals analyst with 15 years' experience in greater China, has yet to land a job after two months of interviews.

Mr. Weaver was laid off in 2009 from a major international investment bank in Taipei after 12 years and moved to Hong Kong with another house until it shut down in late 2011. He finds the market tougher than five years ago, yet better than 2009.

"Five years ago I was getting phone calls (from employers) while I was working," he says. "Now I get the sense that people are uncertain about what happens next year."

Write to Ralph Jennings at

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