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BW Businessworld

Job Axe Swings Across Asia Banking Sector

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Firings are picking up pace at foreign banks across Asia, with industry professionals and headhunters saying more rounds are set to come.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, Asia's rapid economic growth led to an expansion of the banking industry in the region, with most foreign banks insulated from deeper cuts that occurred along the way in the United States and Europe.

While banks may still see less of a hit across Asia than other parts of the world, hopes of being immune from a major culling ended in the past few weeks, with pink slips hitting most foreign financial institutions across the region.

"There's hardly anyone in the market who is looking to hire. Only business critical positions are getting filled," said Aditya Modi, Partner at Transcend HR Solutions, a Mumbai-based financial services placement agency.

"It looks like we are heading towards 2008 in terms of hiring trends."

Massive cuts announced globally by Bank of America Corp and HSBC Holdings plc are beginning to make a dent across their Asia offices.

BofA-Merrill Lynch has laid off three of its six Asia general industry bankers, with more cuts expected in the investment banking department over the next few weeks, sources familiar with the matter said. The prime-broking unit has let staff go as well.

In India, the bank, which has about 1,000 staff in the country for its banking operations, is cutting about 10 jobs, most of which are from the investment banking team, sources with knowledge of the situation said.

Nomura has shed 3 jobs in Mumbai, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter, with around 20 positions expected to go across the region, excluding Japan.

Underscoring the region's importance, Nomura's plans so far for cost reductions in Asia are well below what they are in Europe, where the bank is expected to cut around 300 jobs.

Despite the importance, job losses are piling up in major cities like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Barclays has cut staff in Singapore, according to sources familiar with the matter.

HSBC's Hong Kong business will see 3,000 job losses over the next three years. The bank has begun laying off people at its corporate bank in Hong Kong, according to another executive recruiter who did not want to be named.

The bank has also said that it will increase jobs at a rate of around 1,000 per year in that same timeframe, focusing on creating or repositioning roles that are more revenue generating and client facing.

Swiss bank Credit Suisse is reducing about 20 percent of its staff in the India wealth management unit as part of its global headcount reduction plans amid tough market conditions, two sources with knowledge of the situation said last month.

Out of about 60 people in Credit Suisse's India wealth management unit, 12 are leaving the firm, the sources said.

"We're going into a financial crisis. There will be multiple rounds," said a Hong Kong-based executive recruiter, focused on the financial industry.

All the banks mentioned either declined to comment or could not immediately be reached for comment.

Deals Shelved
Asia's investment banking industry is heavily reliant on the equity capital markets, which by some estimates accounts for around two-thirds of banks' revenues in the region.

While some offerings are pushing through in the current market turmoil, most deals are getting shelved or cancelled.

The big question for the bankers involved is whether markets will pick up again in a few months, or a few quarters.

The prospect of a quick recovery is quite dim, even in Asia, where markets last time quickly regained steam.

Certain parts of the bank remain running at full tilt, such as parts of the brokerage unit, said an investment banker at a U.S. bank. The rest, is pretty quiet, the banker said.

"It's really grim," said a managing director at a foreign bank, who did not want to be identified. "And people expect it to remain this way for quite a while."