Wealth management hiring just won’t die: Barclays, Credit Suisse and UBS still want private bankers in Asia

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In a sea of pink slips, private banking in Asia remains a beacon of recruitment hope, if recent announcements are anything to go by. UBS and Credit Suisse have continued to hire private bankers in Hong Kong, while Barclays Wealth plans to recruit 40 to 60 private bankers in Singapore, Hong Kong and India.

Can Barclays do it?

Recruiters we spoke to gave mixed views on the achievability of Barclays’ target. Jack Bennett, executive director, Lion Rock International, thinks the goal is realistic, if the bank continues to improve its platform and offering to clients, and retains existing talent.

However, he adds: “A major challenge for all firms is that private bankers are more reluctant to move in a downturn. Some candidates are particularly weary of certain European banks that are potentially exposed to the latest financial troubles because of large job losses that happened two to three years ago, and are worried about a repeat.”

Martin Gooden, country manager, Advantage Professional, says European banks are increasingly facing stiffer competition from Asian firms in Singapore, China and India. “Private bankers are a small talent pool to begin, and with more Asian banks becoming aggressive in their hiring strategies, this will pose as an increased challenge. The number of experienced bankers isn’t expanding at the same pace as the number of job opportunities.”

It’s all about the money

Another recruiter, who declined to be named, doubted Barclays’ ability to attract talent because of tough competition from other players. Its potential recruitment problems could be compounded because it is generally an average, not an exceptional, paymaster. However, a different anonymous source reckons the firm – which has hired some strong talent lately – will likely now offer attractive packages and guarantees to lure more wealth managers.

Still kicking

Recruiters we spoke to characterised private banking hiring as fairly active, despite the downbeat market. Bennett says: “Generally, banks are still positive towards private banking in Asia and are still looking to grow. Obviously they have to act under constraints handed down from the head office and this year has certainly not been as active as 2010. There has also been some consolidation in the industry, which has some effect on the market.”

Gooden says decreased recruitment must be seen in context. “Last year the market was flying and most firms were recruiting in various functions. This year while private banking may not be as busy, we continue to get mandates for the next quarter, unlike in the middle and back office.”

Nevertheless, the spectre of being laid off in Asia’s wealth management industry remains. Bennett says cuts have been made, even though they are not on the same scale as in 2008/ 2009. Redundancies have mainly affected support functions, and product and investment specialists, rather than relationship managers.

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