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Asia's disgruntled banking MDs have nowhere to go

After a tough bonus season, western banks don’t officially have hiring freezes in their APAC businesses, but there’s also not excepted to be much recruitment activity during the first quarter.

With China emerging from three years of COVID lockdowns, banks are adopting a cautious approach and are hoping to see an uptick in activity before hiring again. With many bankers getting zero bonus and banks cutting staff, there’s unlikely to be any senior hiring in the foreseeable future.

“Right now there are no banks with senior hiring needs in Hong Kong,” said one headhunter based in Hong Kong, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There may be exceptions, and you might see the odd move. But for the first quarter at least, it’s deadlock.”

That’s bad news for the dozens of bankers that have been laid off by banks in a wave of cuts, and equally bad for disgruntled bankers who were zeroed and would otherwise look elsewhere. “MDs got paid badly because firstly, they’re expensive and secondly, they have no real options to leave right now,” a Singapore-based headhunter said, also speaking off the record.

That may change if activity surges, but no-one is expecting much before the second half of the year. When the rebound comes, a number of bankers will find their services in demand. “Some very good people have been caught in the cross-fire simply because the area they work in has tanked.  For example, there are some high-quality ECM bankers currently out of the market,” said the Hong Kong-based headhunter.

By contrast, junior hiring is less affected. Banks submitted their hiring plans at the end of last year, and they are active in the market. “Juniors are the engine room and will be needed if the market turns,” the Singapore-based headhunter said.

Banks beefed up their operations in South-East Asia in 2022, and could continue to add talent in Singapore, but selective hiring will be the watchword, at least until banks have visibility on how the first quarter is playing out.

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AUTHORDavid Rothnie Insider Comment
  • Xp
    9 February 2023

    Yes, that's correct. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the banking industry, leading to a slowdown in economic activity, lower profits, and reduced hiring. Banks have been cautious in their approach and are focusing on preserving their capital and ensuring the stability of their operations. As a result, many bankers have received reduced bonuses or no bonuses at all, and some banks have had to cut staff.

    However, as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic and economies start to recover, it's possible that we'll see an increase in activity in the banking sector, which could lead to increased hiring in the future. Until then, banks are likely to take a cautious approach and wait until they see a sustained recovery before making any major hires.

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