Redundancies and hardly any jobs: It’s an anxious start to 2012 for Asian equities

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Asian equities has been a rather unpopular and depressing place to work in of late. Last week, RBS announced significant cuts to its equities division across Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, along with plans to sell off its Asian cash-equities operations. Spain’s BBVA has also downsized its equity derivatives team from 26 to 12 in Hong Kong, reports AsianInvestor.

Even the senior guys are getting worried

The uncertain job market has motivated some equity professionals in the region to seek out new opportunities even if they still have jobs. Headhunter Nick Poole says: “I’m seeing more senior candidates, like MDs and senior managers, actively job hunting and unlike the last GFC where there was more interest from professionals in London and New York wanting to come to Asia, there are now more local candidates from Singapore and Hong Kong looking for opportunities in anticipation of redundancies.”

Not that many jobs to go around

The prognosis for recruitment in equities is looking rather dreary. Poole says although boutique firms like Jefferies hired retrenched bankers during the last financial crisis, this isn’t likely to happen in the current downturn. “There are less obvious places for these professionals to go to because of the scale of the attrition. Some smaller boutiques are also not doing particularly well. I definitely don’t see the same hiring appetite as this time last year.”

Carl Harrison, managing director at Broadhaven Consulting, also foresees a challenging first half. However, he adds: “Once the situation in Europe becomes clearer and the equities market starts to rally after bottoming out, no doubt people will start hiring again. We have seen it in Asia before, most recently in 2009, when the year started of miserably on the hiring front, however, by year-end, markets were rallying and people were hiring again, in some cases paying guarantees.”

Career transformers

There is, however, an alternative career track that veteran equity professionals could consider: the ever-buoyant field of private banking. Poole says: “Private banks in Asia are finding it hard to get strong talent, so some are increasingly receptive to taking on good bankers from other areas and training them to become private bankers. I think that’s possible, but only for senior bankers with good, deep relationships.”

Attempting to switch sectors in a downturn will be tough though. Harrison says: “People have been trying to diversify, but to be honest it is very difficult to change fields of work in a market like this. There are only pockets of growth and employers are in a position of strength right now so they can afford to be selective, which means hiring specialists with relevant experience.”

I’ve been fired, now what?

Harrison advocates persistence and patience. “The tide will turn – it’s just a question of when, so it is important that people stick with it, get their resumes out there, keep networking, keep talking to people, and if at all possible, do it all with a smile and an optimistic outlook. It’s very important to remain positive; prospective employers are very good at picking up negative vibes from job seekers and it is a major put-off.”

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