Asian recovery spurs dramatic increase in demand for bankers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2011, 12:00am


Just two and a half years ago, amid the turmoil of the financial crisis, banks laid off staff left and right. Today - even as the West continues to battle its great recession - Asian economies are creating immense personal wealth and a need for more private bank services.

Locally, recruiters say the market is hot, particularly for relationship managers.

According to Thomas Stemp, director of private banking and wealth management at Pelham Search Pacific, Asian banks are hiring, 'with Hong Kong hiring slightly more than Singapore'.

Hong Kong and Singapore together account for about 15 per cent of total Asian net worth - with the SAR's private wealth management industry valued at US$670 billion, and Singapore slightly lower at US$660 billion in assets under management.

Similarly, another veteran headhunter who wished not to be named notes that ANZ, Barclays, Merrill Lynch, BNP, Citibank, HSBC, Credit Suisse and the Bank of Singapore (the private bank of OCBC Bank) are hungry for private bankers who can bring in business.

Jonathan Hollands, managing director of the Carraway Group, said banks were 'especially eager to recruit good relationship managers'.

According to Stemp, ideal candidates are 'senior relationship managers with client accounts of US$200 million or above or ultra high-net-worth (HNW) clients with over US$25 million in assets'.

Hollands thinks those with transferable books of business of US$250 million or more are attractive, but he cautioned that banks now scrutinised candidates for hire more closely than before the global meltdown.

'Mid-range banks are more discerning in what they're looking for and banks are getting smart about having multiple points of contact for clients,' he said.

Institutions also wanted to know whether relationship managers' current books were shared, inherited or whether they developed them on their own - all key indicators of their rainmaking prowess.

The expectation in Hong Kong and Singapore is that bankers bring a certain amount of client assets when they join a new firm.

However, they will likely only be able to take 15 to 20 per cent of their book. Banks are more interested in a banker's ability to bring in new clients, rather than focusing on a short-term migration of assets.

Stemp believes all markets are important as HNW clients' investments are global in scope. But he adds Hong Kong is 'over-banked', suggesting that bankers focused exclusively on that market would have less demand. 'The tycoon's wealth is already established and there are fewer opportunities; China's where the new money is being made,' he said.

Geographically, Hong Kong-based RMs are used to developing China - including Taiwan - whereas those in Singapore are generally geared towards Southeast Asia, particularly the Indonesian market and onshore India, with a growing interest and specialisation in sharia-compliant products.

While Japan once accounted for 80 per cent of Asia's net worth, that is down to about 60 per cent.

Relationship specialists are more desirable than product or functional specialists. According to Stemp, while product skills are always important, 'They need clients to sell products to because the clients' money makes the banks money'.

As for linguistic skills, Putonghua, while essential for mainland RMs, wasn't crucial for the rest of Asia because many wealthy people spoke English, the anonymous recruiter said.