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Meet the elite new teams that JPM, Citi and HSBC are now building in Asia

J.P. Morgan is looking for a managing director to spearhead its Belt and Road strategy as global banks start to build new teams to coordinate business stemming from China’s $900bn global infrastructure initiative.

The US firm is advertising on its careers site for a “Belt and Road Initiative lead”, an “internal expert” to develop BRI-focused initiatives within its corporate and investment bank.

This new JPM vacancy follows Citi’s appointment last month of Beibei Li as head of its BRI-related banking and origination businesses. In April, HSBC – which has singled out BRI as a strategic priority and wants to be the leading international bank in the sector by 2020 – transfered its Malaysia chief executive Mukhtar Hussain into the newly created position of head of BRI for Asia Pacific.

Standard Chartered, which has offices in 45 BRI markets, is also among the Western banks that are building small BRI strategy teams to develop policies, network with key clients, and liaise between different departments.

J.P. Morgan’s new job description demands the ability to “leverage coverage and product teams to execute BRI transactions”. “BRI teams coordinate across areas like corporate banking, investment banking, project finance, and infrastructure to ensure there’s a coherent strategy to monetise the BRI business,” says John Mullally, director of Hong Kong financial services at recruiters Robert Walters. “And they link BRI clients to the right people internally to meet their needs, whether that’s trade finance or M&A.”

Leading a BRI team typically requires decades of experience. Hussain and Li have been with their respective banks for 36 and 19 years, and J.P. Morgan’s new MD-level role demands at least 15 years’ experience. While the JPM opening is in Beijing (presumably to be close to private sector clients and government decision makers), both Hussain and Li are now based in Hong Kong.

At the rank-and-file level, recruiters expect steady but small-scale hiring for BRI units in both cities over the next year. “There will be expansion, but banks will want to keep these teams fairly lean because strategy people are costs centres,” says Mullally.

As with all internal strategy roles, there is no set route into a BRI job. J.P. Morgan says its new MD can have experience in “banking, markets, investor services and/or strategy consulting”.

“A lot of BRI people are from corporate banking backgrounds because a lot of BRI business revolves around trade financing and cross boarder payments,” says Hubert Tam, managing partner of Hong Kong search firm Sirius Partners. Shanghai-based headhunter Jason Tan says the cross-border nature of BRI transactions means candidates should ideally have both China and global banking experience, and have worked with large corporations on international deals.

Connections to the Chinese government will also stand you in good stead, says Mullally. “If you’ve already worked on other vast government infrastructure projects, these relationships will be invaluable, so candidates might well come from infrastructure or project finance backgrounds,” he adds.

Influencing skills and the “ability to interact with colleagues at all levels, including the most senior executives of the bank” are among the main requirements of the new JPM job. “In BRI strategy, your networks and relationship-building skills are more important than your technical expertise,” says Mullally.

Moving from the front-office to a BRI strategy team is not for everyone, however. “It’s a career decision to take a step back from the front-line,” says Mullally.

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Image credit: mbbirdy, Getty

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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