What you need to know about IBD in Asia

Hello monkeys, any opinions/takeaways about investment banking in Asia? Here's what I have gathered from reading various threads on WSO:

Hong Kong:

  • Usually takes most of its analysts from top US/UK universities, although I heard recently they're taking grads from top local, Asia and Chinese schools.
  • Takes summer analysts from local universities (CUHK, HKU, HKUST) *Credits to whiterabbit
  • Hires mostly from its summer class.
  • Works longer hours (Even more than NY) The hours are absolutely brutal. Chinese culture is all about hard work and it shows. *Credits to @Ash Ketchum"
  • Comp is large across the board (even in some cases larger pretax comp than NY, but due to rent and cost of living, effectively it's less than other places.)
  • Chinese / Mandarin is a must. Edit: Apparently not a must if Korean or Japanese, thanks whiterabbit and @marc2". In addition, lots of translation as a junior and you need to write and speak well mandarin, which is a hard task for non-native Chinese.
  • Great emphasis on connections and relationships.
  • Many IPOs and capital raising here.
  • Large client interaction, even at the analyst level. Many trips to different places since the deals are usually not with HK firms.
  • There is also a lot less collegiality and a lot more zero-sum-game thinking, backstabbing and other unpleasant behaviour. (Applies for China too). *Credits to SSits
  • Lots of translations and menial tasks. *Credits to @Ash Ketchum"

Shanghai/Beijing:

  • I heard they only take native Chinese speakers.
  • Even larger dependence on connections. Nepotism is like wildfire here.
  • China's stock market (blue chips) is in Shanghai
  • ChiNext and SMEs are in Shenzhen.

Singapore:

  • I assume it's the same as Hong Kong, but you can probably get by without knowing Chinese, since most of the deals are from SEA. Knowing a SEA language is definitely a plus (or even a requirement).
  • Many IPOs, fund raising, debt/equity placements and some M&A. Probably not as big as NYC, but very often in frequency. Especially with Singapore being the financial center for SEA (Indonesia, Malaysia, etc).
  • Quite difficult if not a local, especially for analyst gigs (since they want the entry-level jobs for their own grads). Post-MBA associates will mostly be from US schools *Credits to srangoon

Tokyo:

  • Japanese is a must, BBs probably don't take non-native Japanese speakers.
  • Comp is comparatively low to HK and Singapore
  • Work Culture is bs here. Lots of kissing asses, seniority culture (e.g. you can't be older than your boss, stuff like that)

Feel free to add/subtract stuff or make any corrections.

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Comments (77)

Feb 20, 2017 - 11:50am

Just want to add some observations for HK:

  • Yes, they take summer analysts from local universities too (CUHK, HKU, HKUST in no particular order)
  • Chinese / Mandarin is a "must" but sometimes exceptions can be made for Korean / Japanese speakers

Thanks for sharing @Dealova" !

Feb 20, 2017 - 1:12pm

Singapore - they will take mostly local grads at the analyst level. Post-MBA associates will be mostly from US schools, not much love for Int'l schools. Focus will mostly be debt/equity placements and some M&A (not as much as you seem to think). They will always advertise as Mandarin or SE-Asian 'preferred' but it's a long shot if you don't speak one at a native level and they won't be shy about making assumptions based on your name/ethnicity. You can get in on just English but it will be a hustle

Feb 20, 2017 - 1:35pm

Its usually at product group or maybe only at capital markets or hong kong coverage. Not all deals are china related but firms and headhunters always prefer someone fluent or even native in mandarin. It is not undoable (i cant speak fluent mandarin either) but rather difficult

Array
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Feb 20, 2017 - 1:39pm

I spent a short period of time in hk and i guess i can share a bit of my observations

Us grads represent the largest % of the class (undergrad + masters with chinese uni undergrad combined), china uni and local big 3 comes second (most are chinese students rather than local hker though)

Uk schools are not so represented except at a few European shops

Hours are pretty long but team dependent, and i cant say much

Pay as analysts are quite standard but difference can be huge at associate or above, analyst at most shops with structured recruiting pays the same (7k base + 2k housing prebonus), except for one or two banks

Chinese and mandarin is not a must if u are a korean, but in general being a native chinese is more preferable to a hker or an amateur mandarin learner. Lots of translation as a junior and u need to write and speak well mandarin, which is a hard task for non native chinese

Yes, quite a lot of ipo but the market is shrinking so there may not be so many mega ipos in the future. Chinese banks (cicc citic etc.) are competing aggressively and u can check out the recent bloomberg or wsj news on asia ib revenue

And u do get quite a lot of interaction if u work at a top bb here.

Sorry for the poor formatting, typed on my phone

Array
  • 9
Feb 20, 2017 - 1:38pm

Oh btw, although the stock market in china is in Shanghai, banks and mega funds in china are mostly located in beijing and only a few bb have significant presence there

Array
Feb 21, 2017 - 1:19am

Will probably try to make one of these for those countries, although, I'm not sure how prevalent IBD is in Switzerland (Other than CS) or France.

Array
  • 1
Feb 21, 2017 - 1:44am

@Naoki Hanzawa"

GoldenCinderblock: "I keep spending all my money on exotic fish so my armor sucks. Is it possible to romance multiple females? I got with the blue chick so far but I am also interested in the electronic chick and the face mask chick."
Feb 21, 2017 - 3:35am

I'm at a BB in Hong Kong (think JPM/MS/GS) and agree with pretty much all that has been said already. In terms of Mandarin, it is a must for all juniors to be native speakers with essentially all product and industry juniors can read and write Chinese at our bank.

Confirmed what other users say in that the hours are worse here than in NYC. Environment is also less bro/frat culture with most of your colleagues being really serious with their heads glued to their monitors and not a lot of joking or messing around, even later into the night when MDs aren't around.

Total comp (at junior levels) is lower here than in NYC mainly due to taxes (income taxes here are bt 15-17%).

A great aspect here in HK is that you get a lot more client interaction than in NYC at the junior ranks (I know of some 2nd/3rd year analysts having regular dialogue with clients). This is mostly a function of the deal teams being significantly smaller and and so you aren't just a cog in the machine and aren't siloed onto a specific part of the transaction. With this you get to understand the transaction process more holistically but the downside is, you may be a bit less technically capable than some of my peers (this is my personal experience) in NYC. I'm fine with this to be honest as I enjoy helping my VP run the transaction, see where the bottle necks are in the process, making sure the strategic rationale is on point than being a DCF expert to the nth degree (there are diminishing returns for being an excel monkey as you progress through the ranks)

And now the lost important part, the night life. The night life in HK is fantastic with great raucous bars and clubs in LKF And Wyndham street (tilted towards the 20-late 20s age range) and also low key lounges and bars in central/Soho And sheung wan areas. Then there are those nights you want to be debaucherous and you pull all nighters in Wanchai.

The biggest downside of HK is that it's expensive as fuck to live here with rent as expensive as NYC but the flats are 10-15% smaller, but you make up for the COL for the low taxes jurisdiction.

All in all HK is a great place to start your career and to grow it if you want to focus on China and can speak Mandarin.

Feb 21, 2017 - 4:03am

Region: CLMV (ASEAN)
Function: IBD Coverage Group
Client Base: Mostly large local corporates (LLCs) and large SME (small & medium enterprises).
Function: Capital Markets (IPO, OTC/Pink Sheet, RTO, Project Finance), Corporate Finance (M&A, Restructuring, Government Privatization), Principal Investing (Merchant Banking)
Main Sectors: Generalist (Consumer, Real Estate, Industrial, FIG); most Southeast Asian bankers will be expected to cover at least 3-4 sectors. Same thing with my friends in Hong Kong, Singapore, and China.
Hours: 9-5pm (Monday to Friday) but if you count wining and dinning clients, golf sessions, business trips, informal catch up sessions over the weekends then I probably end up working 6 days a week, average 12 hours per day
Staff Demographic: oversea returnees, big four advisory, speak local language + English + Chinese
Career Progression: Intern > Analyst > Associate > Senior Associate > VP > Associate Director > Director > MD > Department Head > Executive Director > Partner
Unique Thing about my Firm: is a family office backed investment bank under their financial services group > so we end up advising the group businesses as well > and also do direct investment on behalf of the family office
Exit Strategy: 1) salaryman > move to Director, 2) move to PE, 3) move to client side as CEO/CFO, 4) buy share in the company to become a partner and 5) set up my own fund

Best Response
Feb 21, 2017 - 5:52am
tar0n:

So basically there's no way to work in Asia if you only know European languages?


Why don't you learn Arabic and go to Latin America?
GoldenCinderblock: "I keep spending all my money on exotic fish so my armor sucks. Is it possible to romance multiple females? I got with the blue chick so far but I am also interested in the electronic chick and the face mask chick."
  • 19
Feb 21, 2017 - 8:03am

you have to think about what value you are bringing to the table that they would hire you vs a local who likely costs less to hire, can speak the language, and is at least committed long-term geographically. Especially at the analyst level, there is no reason they would hire you. Now at more senior levels, even at assoc, I have friends who started at european banks (Soc Gen, BNP, etc) and transferred to the Singapore office who have zero asian language skills but they are usually there because the local team needs reinforcements and they are a proven commodity.

Feb 21, 2017 - 11:03am

There are a large number of relationship hires in Asia eg "We'll hire your ne'ER do well son in return for you promising to mandate us on your IPO".

At a junior level, this means you can commonly be working alongside muppets. You can then be hit with the curse of competency - if you're the only competent analyst in a team of 3 - 4 other analysts who are dumbshits with good family connections, then you end up doing all the work.

In Hong Kong/China, at least, there is also a lot less collegiality and a lot more zero-sum-game thinking, backstabbing and other unpleasant behaviour. This generally fits the management strategy commonly used in China culture where there is an emperor with multiple princelings with overlapping territories, constantly at war with each other and jostling for the favour of the emperor. The emperor himself is paranoid that a princeling will take over, so this strategy works well for him. And many relationship bankers in China IBD are nothing if not venal characters tempered by paranoia and suspicion.

Combine both these considerations and you can find yourself not only doing all the work due to the curse of competency, but then seeing others claim credit for your work and stabbing you in the back.

If you grew up in the culture, you'd probably see this as a rational system. If you've grown up in the West (even if you're ethnically Chinese), you can find it frustrating, even if you've read the Art of War and think you get it.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is better guide to the personalities you'll meet in Chinese business than the Art of War.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, post threads about how to do it on WSO.
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Feb 21, 2017 - 3:50pm

The hours are absolutely brutal. Chinese culture is all about hard work and it shows. These are people who went to regular school plus cram school for 12 hours a day since they were in middle school. Banking is just an extension of their school life. They know how to grind and work hard.

We were advising a large PE client and they were ridiculously demanding. Impossible tasks are given at 5pm for completion by tomorrow morning almost daily. The guys running the deal on their end came out of the same HK IB system, and they have come to expect this level of work from their advisers because they went through it themselves.

Banking has enough menial tasks, but translating takes the term menial to the next level. It's boring as hell. There is no financial analysis or critical thinking. You are literally working as a linguist. Sometimes you can outsource the work to a translation company, but they charge by the character and it's expensive. A full 50 page presentation could end up costing something like a grand (you may be able to bill it to the client but not every MD is willing to do that).

You need to be a native speaker. The ideal person is someone who finished high school in Asia before going to a top U.S. or U.K. university. That way, you get the best of both worlds. I find a lot of senior bankers there speak English with a Mandarin accent. That's how good your Mandarin has to be. If you left Asia when in you were in elementary school, your Mandarin probably isn't good enough.

Back in the day you could get by without speaking any Mandarin. A lot of banks were staffed with Europeans and Americans who got by because they had a big brand behind them and supposedly brought in an international perspective. They could teach the local Asian companies how blue chip international firms did business. Nowadays, most of that knowledge is widespread and you actually have to know Mandarin to build relationships and win business. I have heard from people at a few different banks that there is a slow "purge" of non-Mandarin speakers in mid-to-senior level roles who are being replaced with people who can speak Mandarin.

Another interesting note is that Analysts are frequently seconded on site to work directly with the client. That way, the client can directly oversee the Analyst's work and also use him/her to help put out any day-to-day fires or menial tasks that they don't want to do. The client's site could be in Hong Kong where you can just walk across the street. Or, you could be seconded to some random city in China where you work out of a suitcase for a few weeks. I've heard of one case where the client demanded the bank send four analysts. Two work in the day from 9am to 9pm, and two work at night from 9pm to 9am. The night crew receives instructions from the client before they go home at 9pm, and turn in the work the next morning. They literally have the bankers work around the clock. Brutal.

Apr 14, 2018 - 8:39am

Which investment banks would be the best aim for Asia Pacific? (Originally Posted: 09/11/2016)

Still an international undergrad student taking finance. In term of growth prospect, salary, networks, and chance to go up. I will graduate from a U.S. undergrad school but might work in Asia first before my MBA.

My goal is to get into PE in my 30s, and IB is the start that I want. DB and Citi is kinda famous in my country, but I'd prefer UBS, JPM, or Goldman. Which would help the most in the long term?

Feb 25, 2017 - 3:53pm

Start in PE if you're sure you'll stick with the same firm in the long haul i.e Partner track. Go for IBD if you want to keep your career options open. In the former case, you're only given 1 chance (or perhaps 2 max) to change firms within PE or change careers. In the latter, you might be able to try out maybe 3 different careers before settling in one.
PS:- Talking about MF PE

GoldenCinderblock: "I keep spending all my money on exotic fish so my armor sucks. Is it possible to romance multiple females? I got with the blue chick so far but I am also interested in the electronic chick and the face mask chick."
Apr 14, 2018 - 8:46am

Hi AJ, I can only share some personal opinion of banks dealing in the Southeast Asia (SEA) region. If you are looking to be based in SG, your geographical scope would most likely be SEA coverage. North Asia are usually covered by bankers based out of HK.

In SG, Credit Suisse and JPM the 2 strongest banks within the SEA region. Boutiques such as Evercore has been gaining quite a good traction in SEA as well.

However, if you were to compare HK against SG office, North Asia has significantly more deals and activity, It would be good to consider working there but language could be a barrier for you. Would suggest you to google on the league tables for to narrow your search on which banks is strong in HK.

Apr 14, 2018 - 8:47am

Asia IBD exit opportunities (Originally Posted: 04/28/2010)

I am about to start in a BB in Hong Kong and just wondering where do people generally go after 2 years if they choose not to stay. Thanks in advance!

Apr 14, 2018 - 8:51am

erm, i had an interview with a BB from HK, and the MD whom interviewed me did his 1st 2 yrs in NYC. He said that the technical skills you learn in the US is more solid than those in Asia at first, but after 2 years, both are around the same level. The myriad of deals in US is broader, and different complex deals of diff nature are present in the US. In Asia, it's mostly ECM, so you might be pigeonholed. He did mention that there are very little M&A deals going on in Asia, and PE are not as developed. But, they've been doing so much IPOs that they're laughing their way to the banks these days...

Apr 14, 2018 - 8:54am

NY has a wider variety of deals, but at the analyst level the exposure is less than the HK analyst. You might be working on a huge M&A deal in New York, but the problem is, the information / understanding you are exposed to is minute. On the other hand, you might work on a large IPO in Asia, and be the only analyst on the deal - consequently developing a better "bigger picture" understanding of what is going on.

New York will give you more flexibility down the road if you want to work in other markets, however, if your goal is Asia and you have the language capabilities, starting in Hong Kong is probably advantageous at this point. A large part of succeeding in this industry is understanding the landscape, navigating the office politics, and building professional and personal relationships.

Nov 2, 2017 - 7:29pm

Was wondering if any could provide some info on summer associate recruitment in Hong Kong. Given the fact that a lot of associates in hk ibd were a-a promotes, does that mean that there are less summer associate spots for hong kong? Also, what are the target MBA programs?

Apr 14, 2018 - 8:55am

Asia IB: demographics? (Originally Posted: 10/13/2012)

There's a ton of info sessions and networking events coming up at my school within the next few weeks. All of these are for Asia 2012 Summer opportunities. GS, Barclays, RBS, DB, blah blah etc.

My question is for anyone who's done a summer internship at one of these: do you need to be Asian or speak an Asian language to have a shot at these? Will I be taken seriously when applying if I'm a tall white guy who clearly has no Asian roots?

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:00am
Bruce Wayne:
That depends - can you do the Gangnam Style?

Ha ha!!! Good one.

If you ain't gettin money dat mean you done somethin wrong. " If you have built castles in the air , your work need not be lost; that is where they should be . Now put the foundations under them." - Henry David Thoreau
Apr 14, 2018 - 8:59am

you actually do need to be able to speak the language and write professionally. often the books are made in english and are required to be translated into Chinese (hence professional writing mastery in Chinese)

Take it as it comes JJ
Apr 14, 2018 - 9:04am

You absolutely need to be able to speak the language. There are plenty of Asian Americans at targets who want to do IB and are essentially fluent. It's not a "plus," it's pre-requisite.

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:06am

No you do not need to be able to speak the language. They are recruiting in America to look for English speaking individuals that can get the job done. If they want someone that can speak the Native language, they will recruit those people at regional/local universities.

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:07am

I just did my 2 years at a BB in HK - speaking a second Asian language is extremely important - in my superday I was told that they would take a 6/10 who spoke Mandarin over a 9/10 who did not.

Based on my experience, banks like to recruit in the US / UK because they tend to find better balanced individuals who have the same, if not better, skill-sets

That being said, it cannot hurt to recruit - many banks are building up their SEA businesses (might mean you have to be based in Sing, which definitely is not a bad option)

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:08am

The ideal candidate for these positions is a rich, well-connected Hong Kong native (so perfectly fluent in English/Mandarin/Canto/whatever) who went abroad to a prestigious American university and wants to come back to the motherland after graduation.

It helps if you're a dude, too.

Nov 3, 2017 - 8:10am

Singapore also has a wider set of target schools per se. You dont see too many Ivy League people but many top BB spots are filled by top UK Schools (Oxford/Cambridge/LSE/possibly Imperial and Warwick)

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:09am

I-Banking Boutique in Asia (Originally Posted: 03/17/2007)

Hello,

I have worked for a bulge bracket in NY for 2 years and am trying to break into Asia. I have been having trouble because of the language issue (I don't know other languages) but want to get into the market. Anyone know any smaller firms that aren't strict about this?

Thanks!!

Josh

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:12am

IBD Asia Pacific - Training (Originally Posted: 05/08/2007)

Do investment banks send their Hong Kong / Singapore - Analysts & Associates for training to London ? Or do they have a local training program ?

How is the training program in London ?

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:14am

Asia IBD Recruiting (Originally Posted: 09/22/2009)

So, Asia recruiting for summer analysts will be starting relatively soon (at least compared to New York). It's pretty easy to keep up with the US markets just reading the FT everyday, but what is recommended reading to keep up with the Asian markets? I honestly have no idea where to start since I've only been focused on working in New York.

On a side note, I assume the most obvious behavioral question that will be asked is "Why [insert Asian city here]?" Are there any more glaring behavioral questions that are usually asked?

Apr 14, 2018 - 9:19am

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