Deutsche Bank in HK, Singapore sees exodus of investment bankers

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Oct 4, 2018, in New York City.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Oct 4, 2018, in New York City. PHOTO: REUTERS

Cost-cutting and sinking morale have caused some 50 people to leave in past six months: Sources

HONG KONG • Deutsche Bank, the German lender that is struggling to enact a turnaround, has seen a surge in turnover among investment bankers in Asia since May, as cost-cutting and sinking morale have prompted dealmakers to leave, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Almost 50 bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore have left in the past six months, or about 30 per cent of the investment banking workforce before the departures, said the sources, who asked not to be named because the matter is not public.

Eight managing directors and roughly a dozen directors have gone, they said.

Deutsche Bank hired about 35 bankers in the two financial hubs recently to replenish its ranks, though the new staff are more junior, one of the sources said.

Turbulence in the ranks of dealmakers, in a region where fees have increased much faster than elsewhere over the past five years, underscores the uphill battle facing chief executive officer Christian Sewing as he tries to arrest a slide in revenue. Deutsche Bank's tumbling stock, a string of scandals and a global drive to cut costs have dented employee morale, current and former bankers in Asia said.

Among those Deutsche Bank recruited in Hong Kong and Singapore are three managing directors and one director, one person said. A representative for Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Turbulence in the ranks of dealmakers, in a region where fees have increased much faster than elsewhere over the past five years, underscores the uphill battle facing chief executive officer Christian Sewing as he tries to arrest a slide in revenue.

At least 20 bankers based in Hong Kong decamped for rivals, according to people with knowledge of the moves and a Bloomberg News analysis of data from the local securities regulator and LinkedIn profiles. Among the most senior executives who have left for other financial industry jobs are:

•Mr Keyvan Zolfaghari, a managing director who was head of capital markets solutions for Asia-Pacific, joined Goldman Sachs Group;

•Mr James Thomson, a managing director who was head of transportation and aviation for Asia, went to Natixis;

•Mr Duncan Mann, a managing director who was formerly heading financial sponsors coverage in the region, left for Credit Suisse Group;

•Ms Wu Xiaopin, a managing director who ran equity capital markets for China, joined Ant Financial; and

•Ms Virginia Zhang, a director in the China financial institutions group, joined JPMorgan Chase.

The five executives declined to comment or could not immediately be reached.

Mr Sewing said in May that he wanted to keep Deutsche Bank "strong" in Asia, even as he shuts offices and businesses elsewhere. He also pledged not to exit any country in the region. But restoring the firm to its former glory is a tall order: Deutsche Bank has lost market share in regional mergers advisory as well as equity and debt underwriting over the past few years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Some of the people who left in Hong Kong and Singapore were let go by the bank, one source said without naming them.

A key part of Mr Sewing's push to restore profitability is cutting costs at the corporate and investment bank, which shed more than 1,000 front-office positions in the six months to Sept 30. The bank has also focused on hiring university graduates rather than expensive senior executives.

There are some promising signs. Deutsche Bank's share of total investment banking fees in the Asia-Pacific region rose in the first half from a year earlier, according to research firm Coalition Development, which did not give an exact ranking.

The firm won a role in SoftBank Group Corp's initial public offering of its domestic telecoms unit and also advised on Ant Financial's US$14 billion (S$19 billion) fund raising.

While fee growth in the Asia-Pacific far outpaced that of the Americas and Europe in the first half, it remains a much smaller market, Coalition's data shows.

In August, regional head of corporate and investment banking James McMurdo said his division had almost finished restructuring and planned to add bankers in the following months.

The investment banking unit had gained market share and increased productivity, according to Mr McMurdo. Deutsche Bank has been shifting its focus from serving Chinese state-owned enterprises to primarily advising private companies such as Ant Financial and reducing the number of clients to focus on the biggest names, one of the sources said.

"We're making more money with fewer people," Mr McMurdo said in an interview at the time, without providing figures. "In the corporate finance business, in every one of our product areas, we are up materially year on year."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2018, with the headline 'Deutsche Bank in HK, S'pore sees exodus of investment bankers'. Print Edition | Subscribe