Trading Places

Inside views on the jobs market

Wall Street job losses may be Asia’s gain

By Reuters Staff
September 19, 2008

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MUMBAI/SHANGHAI: Within hours of Bank of America agreeing to buy Merrill Lynch this week, Indian financial services firm Ambit hired five Merrill executives, a sign that Asia hopes to gain from massive Wall Street layoffs.

For China and India, whose economies are still expanding at well over 7 percent, the global financial industry crisis makes it easier to recruit bankers who are brushing off their resumes.

New York’s governor reckons 40,000 Wall Street jobs could go in a worst-case scenario, with talk swirling of more bank deals and mergers.

Lehman Brothers, which has filed for bankruptcy protection, has around 2,000 staff in India, including its back-office operation, while Merrill has about 500.

Ambit Holdings said on Monday it hired the five Merrill executives from a majority-owned local venture for its institutional equities and equity proprietary trading unit, including a 10-year Merrill veteran as head.

BNP Paribas and Nomura Securities in India are looking to hire Lehman executives, according to investment banking sources who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. In Hong Kong, bankers said they were considering hiring from Lehman.

“I think there’s opportunities to improve our team or bring key people into key positions relatively easily and quickly and painlessly. Normally, it’s quite expensive and difficult to move investment bankers around,” said one banker in Hong Kong.

“All banks have the opportunity to upgrade or augment teams they were looking at anyway, because Lehman is a mix of pretty good people,” the banker added.

Executives at Lehman’s real estate and capital market divisions in China said there was still huge demand for talent in specific areas such as deal making and investment banking.

Lehman, like other foreign investment banks trying to build a business in India’s fast-growing market, had poached rivals’ teams in a mass hiring spree spiced with big salaries and bonuses.

Now, while some foreign banks may be wary about swelling their ranks, their local rivals will likely snap up people, and bankers may also opt for the relative safety of local firms.

“The pace has definitely slowed and banks may not be looking to hire as aggressively as before,” said Dhanpal Jhaveri, executive director of India’s Future Capital Holdings, which is expanding its portfolio of financial services.

“But it’s high-quality talent, and everyone recognises there are cycles. People are always on the lookout for good talent.”

Bankers and headhunters are split over whether senior level or more junior executives will be hired more easily.

“Junior and mid-level guys are more flexible and are cheaper to hire,” said one investment banker, who recently moved to a local firm in Mumbai from a multinational.

“More senior guys, unless they were really superb, may actually have a harder time,” he said.

Infrastructure Development Finance Corp has discussed hiring Lehman executives, according to media reports, and other expanding local firms likely to follow suit include Tata Capital, Reliance Capital and HDFC Securities.

“We are in the process of scaling up our operations,” said Amar Sinhji, head of human resources at Tata Capital, which has ventures with Mitsubishi UFJ Securities and Mizuho Corp Bank.

“We see this situation as an opportunity to source some of the best available talent in the industry,” he said, adding Tata was looking to ramp up investment banking and private equity.

In China, too, some Lehman bankers have begun to look for jobs, not with other foreign banks, but with state banks that are seen as a more secure bet for the next few years.

Everyone, though, faces tougher times.

Indian investment banking fee income fell 44 percent in January-August, Thomson Reuters data showed, as tighter credit and higher borrowing costs dried up deals and put the brakes on fund raising.

In China, fee income is down nearly 6 percent this year.

Merrill was second in the Indian league table, which is headed by State Bank of India. Lehman ranked 36th, down from 17th a year ago.

“It’s a bit of a gloomy outlook overall, but I don’t think anyone will have trouble finding a job. The domestic opportunity is still good,” said Sandeep Chaudhry, business consultant leader at consulting firm Hewitt Associates.

“Across the board though, we are going to see smaller packages (and) stricter performance appraisals.”

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