Q&A - Investment Counselor at an Bulge Bracket Bank

Hello everyone, my schedule has cleared up and everyone is in the office is in the holiday mood. Thought to open myself to questions (if anyone is interested) 

Brief Background:

  • Bachelors of Business Management (Major: Finance) from Singapore. Did my exchange program in Canada
  • Msc of Finance from Hong Kong and New York 
  • 6 years of experience in Credit and Fixed Income (across Asset Management, Advisory and Research)
  • Specializes in the Asian market  

Will try to address as many questions as I can :)

 

So there are a couple of reasons:

(1) Data and disclosure fragmentation in a heterogeneous region - Asia doesn't have a governmental body like the EU so every country has different standards and regulations 

(2) Talent crunch - there's been a burst of ESG interest in the recent years and IMO we don't have enough supply of ESG talent and expertise. Some asset managers in Asia are UN PRI signatories but others are still setting up their ESG teams

(3) Profit mentality - this is a generalization but Asian investors tend to prioritize profits. A huge reason for the recent ESG trend in Asia is because of the pressure of EU and US investors making investments into Asia 

The positive thing is that despite the motivations, there is increasing awareness of the importance of ESG in Asia and we're making progress (albeit slowly). 

 

What would it look like if an American was trying to break into IB and PE in Singapore? What barriers are there for entry? Are there any limitations to how high a foreigner can rise the corporate ladder? Many people I have talked to said that breaking into PE in Asia is fairly difficult given the centralized nature of conglomerates and their families.

SYC
 

I would say that the largest barrier to entry would be getting an employment pass (but this problem exists in most countries anyway). The Government has been paying more attention to the number of foreigners each firm can hire. It may be difficult and time consuming at the beginning but it's not impossible, especially if you have a good academic/working background. I personally don't think there are limitations as to how high a foreigner can climb the corporate ladder - there are plenty of foreigners in high ranks here. However, it may be tougher if you work for a local Singaporean company. 

I'm not sure how private equity is like in America, but yes the PE scene in Singapore is definitely much smaller than the States, but that is mostly due to the smaller size of the Asian market. Many PE firms are of a smaller scale (smaller deal size, few employees) and yes they are of a centralized nature... 

 

How is the Private Wealth & Asset Management space looking in Asia vs the UK? Is there more growth potential in the UK and what are the career trajectories like in both places? Which BBs in particular do you think have the most potential for growth? I'm from Asia and did my undergraduate studies in the UK and my postgraduate studies in NYC, so I'm thinking of whether to stay in the UK (already have an offer from a BB) or think of going back to Asia (HK, SG). US is unfortunately not a choice as most banks don't sponsor visas for roles within PWM. Thanks for your time! 

 

I'm not knowledgeable on the UK market so I won't be of much help on that, but I can share my thoughts on Asia. In the recent years I have noticed that there has been an increase of money inflows into Asia, especially Singapore and even Hong Kong. Citi is an example - the firm has been building its SEA wealth hub in Singapore and reducing their presence in other SEA countries. Banks growing their wealth management business (those that I've noticed) would be Citi, HSBC, Deutsche, Standard Chartered, Morgan Stanley (they're using AI which apparently has been boosting their WM revenues). I could have missed out some others. 

Personally if I were you, I would work in London for a couple of years after graduation. Assuming you're from HK/SG, it would be relatively easy for you to request for a transfer back home, or find a new job back home. It'll be great to have global experience! 

Hope this is of some help :)

 

Thanks for the swift response and great advice. Just one follow-up: What benefits are there to working in Europe and then transitioning back to Asia, recruiting wise? Do employers highly value overseas experience (EU) in Asia? Unfortunately, I do need visa sponsorship to work in HK & SG so was wondering whether that move will be hard. Thanks again :)

 

Surprisingly, I think recruiting in Singapore is still holding up well. Most of my friends and myself (in Finance) haven't been badly affected and are still able to jump to other high finance roles (although it's definitely more difficult than during the hiring boom during COVID-19). Big tech is a lot more badly affected. 

AI-related roles and Data Analytics are booming - a lot of demand, not enough supply... 

For new skills in my current career path - I would say try to clear CFA level 1 or 2 in school to get some brownie points from AM houses/ banks. Also, learn programming or at least have decent Excel skills ( be able to build simple/intermediate formulas). If money isn't an issue, you could consider doing a Masters degree after your Bachelors program. You're gonna have a long career, there is nothing wrong taking an additional year to study in school and improve on yourself.

 

Hi thanks for doing this - really appreciate your time. I assume you are an IC advising HNWIs within a BB PWM/PB division? If so, have a few questions below...

1. What is your view on the growth of private banking/wealth management in finance hubs such as HK or SG? You mentioned that several BBs are expanding presence, but do you think they're only catching up to the demand or is the market already saturated?

2. Any insights on the family office space? Read on Bloomberg that HK is aiming for ~200 FOs, whereas SG already has over 1,000 (grew from ~400 in 2020)

3. Do the portfolios of Asian HNWIs have a strong bias towards allocating their assets within Asia? Or are they well diversified internationally or have a geographic bias such as US?

4. Any insights on the comp levels of a role in wealth management or credit in Asia? 

 

No worries, let me try to address the following questions :)

1. PB/WM has been booming in the recent years in SG and will continue to to grow, because the ultra-rich in Asia is expected the rise the fastest in the next few years (there is research on this). Singapore is also a beneficiary of the US-China tensions - we are seeing a lot of Chinese money flow into Singapore

2. Yes, a lot of family offices being set up in Singapore, for the same reasons as above. The Government has been doing its best to lure people in to set up their family offices here

3. From what I see, Asian HNWIs don't have a strong bias towards allocating their assets within Asia. In my role, most of them invest across G7 currencies and different products (mutual funds, structured notes, bonds, equities). U.S. treasuries have been a great hit this year lol

4. WM/Fixed Income (idk about private credit) pays less than the likes of IBD / S&T. However, it would be relatively more stable. I would say a reasonable starting salary for a fresh grad in a decent fund house/bank is +/- $7000. 

 

I just got an offer from PIMCO for the summer internship as an account analyst in SG (with me being a Thai would be covering SEA within South Asia and Greater China). But my problem is that I’ve already signed with BlackRock for Aladdin Wealth Tech Client Team in HK where I studied (I’m a Thai with student visa in HK btw). BLK was my first offer and with HK hiring market, I signed the offer right away and met with supervising VPs (both were nice to me). Was thinking whether or not to renege BLK for PIMCO and I got 2 days to reply to PIMCO.

Although I think both are sales/client relationship jobs (BLK Aladdin includes Project Management with Developers and Modelling teams in US apart from client engagement), my take is PIMCO’s role would be better in terms of careers in AM as it’s more FO (esp if I want move into investments or PM path) or applying for MBA or MSc Finance (I study Engineering). BLK Aladdin Wealth is tech-focused and a bit harder to move around in AM business IMO but I don’t hate the job and managed to see the best of it as it is my signed offer. My concerns are:

  1. Any chance to move to more investment or product roles either within BLK or other houses from Aladdin business? (read on Glassdoor and this looks bleak) If not, would MBA at HKUST or Biz Schools in SG help (not sure I could afford M7 or other top US MBA)?

  2. Under the current market, would BLK esp Aladdin businesses in HK be affected by the China slowdown? I’m quite worried about my return offer chances though BLK HR confirmed that conversion rate is 80%. I looked into BLK earnings and it looks fine for Aladdin revenue growth. How about PIMCO? Despite SG resilience but I heard PIMCO is kinda losing inflows due to recent bear bond market. Would this affect my chances for FT return headcount?

  3. The day after I got PIMCO offer, its SG EVP called me and assured me that she would take care for me if I were to pick them and reneged BLK (she told me I had to call BLK HR myself obviously). Is this buyable? Instead, if I were to decline the PIMCO offer and stick to BLK, would I burnt my bridges with PIMCO? I feel bad for saying to BLK future VPs “see you in the summer” just to ditch them for a competitor.

  4. Any word about the culture, internal opportunities, benefits? I don’t care about comp as both offers give me 6x more than I would in Thailand anyway.

Anyway, my goal was always to break into AM so both offers def fulfilled my mind after this difficult year (the market and personal tragedy. So, I wanna thread my career carefully. Thanks in advance!

 
Most Helpful

Ok this is a pretty long post that you have but firstly I wanna say - congrats on the internship offers! This is a good problem to have. Yes, I do agree that the PIMCO internship seems more front-office like and would be better in terms of careers in AM. BlackRock Aladdin Wealth is definitely more tech/ops focused. 

1. I haven't worked at BlackRock but I have heard of some people moving into investment/product roles from Aladdin. Internal mobility is definitely possible, but it depends on ability (are you performing well at Aladdin) and luck (are your bosses nice/supportive). Also, I believe companies only allow for internal mobility after at least 2 years. So the question here is - do you see yourself and would you be happy working at the Aladdin platform for at least 2 years or more?  

I personally wouldn't do an MBA at HKUST or any SG schools, I do not think they would provide much value. For an MBA, I recommend LBS/INSEAD or M7/ other top US schools. If not, you could consider a Msc in Finance from U.S. business schools or LBS. A CFA would be helpful too (but really arduous - I only did Level 1). I advocate a Msc in Finance (I could be biased) because it's 1 year long and it's more technical (again, I could be biased). 

I've seen many analysts/ PMs come from a variety of different (and often seemingly irrelevant) backgrounds - many of them didn't start in AM when they graduated from school. I personally believe that as long as you have decent credentials and work hard on yourself, you will be able to get investment/ product roles in AM firms (no matter where you started at)

2. Unfortunately I am not knowledgeable on Blackrock's Aladdin business so I will not be of much use here. I believe that most AM houses have taken a beating due to the recent bear market rout and would have seen an outflow of funds. SG's job market is resilient, yes, but I would think equities took a greater hit (vs bonds) the past year. China's slowdown would hit HK a lot worse, yes. Many people I know (in the Finance sector) have lost their jobs in HK. Also, I am noticing consolidation among the AM houses. Hiring for AM roles have been slowing a lot + I am seeing more firings + Comps is not as great as before. This is 1 reason why I (and some friends) left AM to return to banking. 

I believe headcount shouldn't be an issue - young and new blood is always needed and juniors are the ones that do the running. Your highly paid seniors are the worried ones haha. 

3. I think either way, you would have to burn bridges... it's just a question of whether it's with PIMCO or BR... Just try to do it nicely and provide a reason. I'm sure they'll understand (and if they don't, they're the unreasonable ones). 

4. I actually heard some things about PIMCO's culture that are... questionable. Then again, I'm not the best person to ask as I haven't worked there. You may need to do some digging into this. If I were you, I would be more inclined to work in Singapore. I think the job market in SG is more resilient than in HK, and you would have a greater advantage here (you can cover the SEA market here since you are Thai) than in HK. The markets to cover in HK are always China and Greater China. 

Ultimately this is your choice and hope I helped clear things up a bit! Good luck :)

 

What are the common exits for ICs? Seems most ppl just stay as ICs and jump between banks. I am thinking of breaking into EQD sales and wondering whether that is possible.

 

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