CIMB cuts 15 jobs in Singapore equities unit

Mr Song Seng Wun confirms that he has accepted a retrenchment package from CIMB Securities.
Mr Song Seng Wun confirms that he has accepted a retrenchment package from CIMB Securities.

The stiff competition in Asia's investment banking and equities market has led to more casualties in Singapore, with CIMB Group Holdings letting go 15 employees, including prominent economist Song Seng Wun.

This follows a string of similar moves at other banks. Goldman Sachs is reportedly slashing its investment banking team in Singapore by about 30 per cent.

In January, StanChart said it would cut 200 jobs, mostly in Asia, as it exited the global institutional cash equities, equity research and equities capital market businesses. More cuts could be around the corner after the bank announced a major boardroom reshuffle last week.

Nomura, too, has removed 12 jobs at its Asia equities division to trim costs and focus on more profitable businesses.

CIMB's Mr Song confirmed with The Straits Times that he has accepted a retrenchment package from CIMB Securities. But he said he may rejoin the group under its CIMB Bank operations.

Sources told The Straits Times 15 Singapore jobs are set to be lost, following 50 across the region last week - in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and India.

CIMB's home base, Malaysia, has not been hit by the layoffs.

According to a Business Times report, the retrenchments are in the equities division, largely involving institutional sales and to a lesser extent the research unit.

The equities business has been a tough one for banks lately because of weak trading volumes, a dearth of big merger & acquisition (M&A) deals and stiff competition in the market, said Moody's banking analyst Simon Chen.

"When we talk about the equities business we're typically referring to two segments - equity capital market, which deals with M&A and investment banking deals, and cash equities, which is the brokerage business," he said.

"On both fronts, conditions have deteriorated in the past 12 to 18 months, driven by a slow economic outlook and also some element of political uncertainty, especially in Thailand."

Brokerage turnover has been weaker in Singapore and Thailand, which has hit revenues, and the brokerage business is highly competitive, he noted.

"On the equity capital market side, three to five years ago there were very large deals in the region but in the last 12 to 18 months those deals disappeared. More smaller deals mean lower fee revenues for these players," he added.

Mr Chen noted that CIMB acquired much of the Royal Bank of Scotland's Australian and Asian investment banking businesses in 2012, as it was optimistic that the purchase would help it build up scale and grow revenue rapidly.

But CIMB recently admitted it was "overly bullish" and now it is "not so confident of the synergistic benefits of the acquisition, and this has led to them wanting to cut investment banking costs and focus more on their retail and corporate banking roots".

yasminey@sph.com.sg