With Standard Chartered running into trouble over its dealings with Iran, potential poachers are circling the bank's Asia-based staff aiming to pick up talent.
People in the financial industry told the South China Morning Post that some rival banks in Hong Kong had recently started approaching employees, mostly middle-ranking ones, at Standard Chartered, which is headquartered in London but has a big presence in Hong Kong.
The British bank struck an agreement last week with New York state financial regulators to pay a fine of US$340 million to settle allegations that it concealed Iran-related transactions worth a total of US$250 billion. The bank faces other challenges with US federal regulators.
And it has just been sued separately in the United States by victims of the 1983 Iran-sponsored terrorist bombing of a US marine barracks in Lebanon for allegedly conspiring with Iran to hide assets.
The bank has declined to comment on the suit.
Recently, many of Standard Chartered's competitors had been aggressively lobbying the bank's staff to join them in Hong Kong or Singapore, one person said. "Some even promised to provide a one-off cash bonus" once the bankers signed on, he said.
According to the people, some of Standard Chartered's relatively new competitors in Hong Kong, including Singapore's DBS, which has been expanding outside its home country in recent years, are eyeing the bank's wealth management team, particularly so-called relationship managers that could bring new clients to DBS.
A DBS spokeswoman said DBS planned to "increase our staff strength" in key areas, including wealth management.
Some Chinese financial institutions have also been nibbling at Standard Chartered's talent pool in Hong Kong. Mainland Chinese firms in Hong Kong, such as Citic Securities and Merchants Securities, have sped up their recruitment from global banks this year as many international banks have laid off staff to cut costs.
"We will continue to hire to invest in future growth and we are keeping track of market movements to ensure we stay competitive," a Standard Chartered spokeswoman said.
The bank has stepped up its internal communications. Two bankers at Standard Chartered told the Post that the bank had been assuring staff that business in Asia "will operate as normal" and that employees should not worry about their jobs. It dismissed market speculation that the bank might have to lay off staff to reduce costs.
Mark O'Reilly, managing director of headhunting firm Astbury Marsden for the Asia-Pacific region, suggested Standard Chartered employees should be patient. "There have been so many scandals recently. If you change jobs every time your bank gets hit by a scandal, you'd be changing jobs a lot," he said.