Meet the investment bankers who are still in demand in Hong Kong

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Chinese banks and insurance firms are looking to poach more people from the financial institutions groups of Western banks in Hong Kong, say headhunters.

One director-level FIG banker in Hong Kong we spoke with recently moved from a European bank to a Chinese bank because of higher base pay and a sign-on bonus equivalent to 150% of his entire salary for the previous year.

The European bank had given him a competing offer at its London office, but his net earnings would have been virtually cut in half by paying UK tax.

“Chinese banks are growing companies, and they simply can’t be ignored,” says the banker.

His is not an isolated example, say headhunters.

Like the banker we spoke with, however, most newly recruited FIG professionals are abandoning their advisory jobs to go into the in-house corporate development teams that help Chinese banks expand without so much need for external advice.

Large Chinese banks have been on a local and domestic shopping spree of late. Most recently, in November, CICC announced it would purchase Shenzhen-based China Investment Securities

Nick Green, managing director of search firm Carraway Group in Hong Kong, says he has seen a “noticeable trend recently” of FIG bankers moving in-house. Last year, for example, a client of his in the insurance sector specifically requested candidates with FIG experience.

“Their skills in such things as deal structuring and business development are still in demand,” adds Green.

The demand from corporate development teams comes at a time when some FIG bankers are already questioning their long-term commitment to working for Western banks in Hong Kong.

Because of their highly sector-specific focus, FIG bankers often find it hard to transfer into other teams within their current banks.

“FIG bankers tend to be considered specialists by other departments, so they can find themselves in a difficult position when they're faced with choosing another field of specialisation in their bank,” says Philip Hutchison, principal consultant of banking and finance at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership in Hong Kong.

“It comes down to the technical skills required for the job. FIG deals with even more numbers than most other sectors because they look at financial institutions, so their skills tend to be less transferable,” says Hutchison. “It isn’t like covering the manufacturing sector, for example, where you might value stock and inventory.”

But their strong numeracy skills are sought after for in-house jobs, agrees Hutchison. “If a FIG banker decides to move into a business development role or work internally on structured deals, quite often it's these skills that come most into play.”

Image credit: zhudifeng, Getty

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