For students like Sun Jiaxuan at the National University of Singapore, the future of finance is all about high-frequency trading (HFT) firms, not the Wall Street banks that graduates once aspired to.
Recruiters from DRW Holdings, a Chicago firm that is expanding in Asia, found that out last month when they visited the school.
"The future is HFT, it's like a superstar in the finance world," said the 23-year-old, who is studying for a master's in financial engineering. "The big banks are cutting a lot of headcount, closing trading desks even in Asia, and that sounds like a scary place to be."
High-frequency traders, which over the past decade have taken over many traditional banking roles in the United States and European capital markets, are expanding in Asia. American firms including DRW, Virtu Financial and Jump Trading are hiring, while local outfits such as Grasshopper and Eclipse Trading have plans to expand.
Meanwhile, international banks such as Morgan Stanley, Barclays and Macquarie Group are cutting trading jobs in the region.
"Everyone who's a somebody in HFT is hiring," said managing director Nicholas Wells at NewtonChase, a recruiting firm in Singapore. "The race for talent is hot as they expand in Asia, where there are new markets and HFTs aren't in as much of the spotlight as in the West."
TARGETING NEW MARKETS
Everyone who's a somebody in HFT is hiring. The race for talent is hot as they expand in Asia, where there are new markets and HFTs aren't in as much of the spotlight as in the West.
MR NICHOLAS WELLS, managing director of recruiting firm NewtonChase.
The reception to HFT in Asia has been mixed.
Japan, where high-speed trades make up about 70 per cent of orders at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, is mulling over new rules.
Brokers in India, the developing world's biggest electronic-trading market, have asked the regulator to reconsider plans to slow down computer trading.
China, the world's second-largest economy, cracked down on algorithmic traders in the aftermath of last year's market rout.
Meanwhile, several electronic traders have set up shop in Singapore, which started as a trading port and where HFT is viewed positively.
"Trading is a part of Singapore's DNA and a natural base for participation across Asian markets," said director for Asia-Pacific operations Kevin Pereira at Jump. It opened an office in Singapore in 2011.
Asian exchanges have ramped up speeds to levels conducive for automated trading, said Eclipse's head quant Greg Griffin. The Hong Kong- based firm is looking to add 20 employees to its current 100, he said.
HFT recruitment in Asia is a blessing for would-be traders who might otherwise be looking at a tough job market. Barclays shut its securities operations across Asia earlier this year, while Macquarie's equity trading unit has been reduced. Morgan Stanley cut fixed-income jobs and CLSA asked its staff to take unpaid leave. The pullbacks come amid a drop in trading jobs as the industry becomes more automated.
"In the good days when banks hired for trading desks, they would look at filling 50 or more," said managing director Will Tan at Principle Partners, an executive search firm in Singapore. "These days, you're lucky to have a job there and not be replaced by a machine."
When the big firms add to their electronic desks these days, they are mainly hiring for their risk and compliance functions, said Mr Wells of NewtonChase.
The banks have seen a rebound, with the five biggest US investment banks reaping US$20.7 billion (S$28.6 billion) in revenue from bond and stock trading in the third quarter, the most for the period since 2009. But they did it with fewer traders and sales people, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Automated trading firms say they are better insulated from the swings faced by other financial companies.
"As a market maker, we're indifferent to markets going up or down," said Ms Fieke Korporaal, a Singapore-based spokesman for Flow Traders.
Grasshopper has more than 50 employees and is planning to increase that by 20 per cent in the next 18 months, said founder John Lin, 47, a former pit trader. He is looking for mainly tech and quantitative roles because only the "fittest, fastest or scrappiest survive".
Campus recruiting forms the bulk of hiring and usually little or no experience in finance is required, said Principle Partners' Mr Tan.
Virtu has four jobs available in its Singapore office. DRW has six open job postings for its newest office, in Singapore, which opened in March last year and has 30 employees.
Jump has 11 open positions for its Singapore office, showed its website. The firm has over 40 employees in the Asian city, Mr Pereira said.
"It's nice to hear that these guys are hiring and growing," said 22-year-old Master in Financial Engineering student Rehan Sondh, who was one of about 100 students attending the DRW event. "That's a refreshing change from the doom and gloom news at the big banks."