Golden opportunities

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 May, 2011, 12:00am


As the region enjoys a geographically patchy but encouraging recovery from the global financial crisis, hiring trends for fixed income, currency and commodities (FICC) departments across the Asia-Pacific region are on the rise.

The sector is showing stability that supports other banking and financial services, according to sources.

The industry is also markedly centralising. According to Richie Holliday - chief operating officer of regional hiring giant Morgan McKinley, north Asia - FICC departments are now more likely to be located in one or two key cities in the Asia-Pacific region, as opposed to having a very strong presence on the ground in a broad spread of financial centres across the region.

'The fixed-income market in Hong Kong remains very small,' he says.

'However, we have recently seen a trend towards expanding teams in this area. Companies are starting to hire new staff in research and portfolio management teams.'

Holliday adds that banks in Tokyo are unlikely to increase their headcounts within FICC this year, having taken on significant numbers last year. Moreover, the Japanese economy is still reeling from the economic impact of the earthquake and tsunami, which is dampening hiring sentiment in all sectors of Asia's second-biggest economy.

Meanwhile, all eyes remain on the mainland, which weathered the financial crisis better than most economies. As a result, hiring is buoyant in its financial sector. 'For Shanghai, the central government's commitment to create a world-class global financial centre in the city by 2020 will certainly see the fast development of the FICC market over the next few years, but currently it is still very much a 'vanilla offering' in China and the region,' Holliday says.

With the sluggish growth in North America and Europe, the global centre of financial gravity is moving east, with a corresponding labour movement.

But Holliday cautions those from the West prospecting for jobs in Asia to research the market fully.

The special qualities sought by banks and other financial institutions in the fixed-income sector have not changed markedly since the financial crisis.

'Experience is key when looking for the right people in this sector, as the numbers of individuals with relevant skills and the right attitude can be limited. Those candidates who have a demonstrable track record of success in dealing with complex and derivative products within fixed income will always be highly regarded and sought after,' Holliday says.

'An ability to communicate clearly and effectively is essential as is a broad range of analytical skills. Strong quantitative and numerical ability is sought after for professionals to be able to deal with the complex nature of work in this market.'

In general, professionals with an inquisitive and energetic approach, coupled with a keen desire to fully understand the complexity of the sector, are often well suited to working in FICC.

This applies across the region. In Kuala Lumpur, Nora Manaf, senior executive vice-president and head of group human capital at Maybank, says that aside from core technical skills, 'the special qualities the bank looks for include track record of ability to perform in a highly stressful environment, resourcefulness, adaptability, independence, determination and commitment to results. A good sense of humour is also very helpful to come out successful in this sector'.

The range of competencies for FICC is remarkably broad. As Manaf says, a holistic understanding of the commodity markets is essential. 'We look for someone who has worked in the supply side and demand side of the commodity business. Aside from these, the job would require quick thinking and an ability to be decisive. Equally important is strength in articulation of ideas,' she says.

The FICC sector in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is looking for the same kind of personality sought in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, Manaf notes.

'Aside from the ability to demonstrate the required qualities and skill sets, the people we look for would be honest, know how to leverage on team members, are passionate about personal and professional growth, as well as the organisation's performance, focused on results, have a high sense of urgency, and can build relationships,' she adds.

Meanwhile, global growth patterns continue to influence hiring policies in the FICC sector.

Yoshiki Kumazawa, manager at Morgan McKinley Tokyo, says: 'In recent months, it seems some of the major European and American houses are being more cautious about their hiring needs - possibly because revenues in their domestic markets continue to be sluggish. This has led to more complex and rigorous interview processes, particularly in the Tokyo market. Conversely, Asian institutions have generally seen growth in FICC revenues, and the rate of hiring has been less affected than at their US and European counterparts.'

Amid the volatility, the sector has also shown long-term stability.

'Generally, [human resources] policies tend not to be so reactive as to change in a period of months. Nevertheless, we have seen some evidence in Hong Kong to suggest that the sector's HR teams are becoming more open and flexible regarding compensation, particularly given there has been continued global focus on remuneration in recent months,' Holliday says.

Northeast Asia, particularly Japan, is a magnet for highly motivated individuals who are prepared for a challenge. 'For professionals in Tokyo, securing a role in FICC has become more difficult than in previous years, although it remains an exciting career for those with ambition to advance their future in this sector,' Kumazawa says.

In Southeast Asia, the hiring picture remains vibrant.

'As an Asian bank, with ambitions to build a leading Asian currency and fixed income franchise, we are looking for people with experience in the fixed-income market for structuring and deal execution. We are also keen on people familiar with Asian credits and clients when it comes to sales and deal origination,' says DBS head of fixed income Clifford Lee, who is based in Singapore.

As growth consolidates across the region, players such as DBS are upbeat. 'Despite the recent increase in activity, the Asian bond market is still in a developing stage, so professionals who are creative and can think 'out of the box' would fare better and be more sought after,' Lee adds.

Both fixed-income finance and commodities investment are looking bullish again, and this is manifesting itself in enhanced opportunities.

'Market activities in the fixed-income space have picked up quite significantly in recent months, and the competition for talent is likely to intensify,' Lee says.