Asian FX jobs are still in the firing line, even as Singapore and Hong Kong grab a greater share of global FX turnover.
“Expect a heavy axe to continue falling for FX jobs in Asia, especially front-end ones such as sales and trading,” says Ovidiu Olea, a former associate director in HSBC’s transaction FX distribution team, who now runs Hong Kong FX start-up Valoot Technologies.
“With the buy-side deploying their own algorithms, there is literally nobody left to pick up the phone when an FX salesperson calls from a bank. You can't take an algo out for a steak dinner,” says Olea.
In 2016, Singapore and Hong Kong – fuelled by the rise of renminbi trading – increased their shares of international foreign exchange trading from 6% to 8% and from 4% to 7% respectively. This was largely at the expense of London, the world’s dominant FX centre.
“With liquidity available more easily from Asian locations, I’m not surprised that SG and HK are on the rise,” says Olea. “The time-zone premium attached to London has diminished tremendously as algos replace human interaction at breakneck speed.”
But while Asia may be taking business from the UK, FX trading and sales jobs are under equal threat in the region. “All it takes to be a successful FX firm nowadays is a half decent quant, a deep liquidity pool and an internet connection,” says Olea.
“It doesn’t matter what the product is – global banks in Asia are all cutting high-touch trading jobs,” says former Deutsche and UBS banker Benjamin Quinlan, now CEO of Hong Kong consultancy Quinlan & Associates.
“The winners of the FX world are American banks and smaller, nimbler, more tech-focused firms,” says a Hong Kong-based FX professional who asked not to be named.
“Check out the meteoric rise of XTX. It employs a minute fraction of the big banks’ headcount, but does a heavier volume and churn than most of them,” he says. “That’s all down to smart quants and efficient algos. Firms like XTX will never go on a hiring spree because they just don't need people.”
US banks in Asia are hiring “very modestly and selectively”, he adds. “It’s mostly to service big hedge fund clients – quite literally algo repairmen to fix what happens when the algos go haywire.”
Banks in Hong Kong and Singapore are recruiting technology infrastructure people and low-latency coders to support electronic trading, says Nick Wells, managing partner at quantitative trading search firm Newton Chase.
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