Nomura to hire 100 for Asia wealth, fixed income expansion

The brokerage hired about 20 to 25 private bankers from rivals. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Nomura Holdings is on a hiring spree to bolster its wealth and fixed income businesses in Asia, key areas for growth at Japan's biggest securities firm after its latest cost-cutting drive.

The brokerage hired about 20 to 25 private bankers from rivals including Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas this year and plans to add similar numbers in each of the next two to three years, said Rig Karkhanis, head of global markets for Asia excluding Japan. It also aims to recruit as many as 40 people for fixed income in the next 18 months, he said.

Chief executive officer (CEO) Kentaro Okuda's Asia push comes after his predecessor cut hundreds of jobs around the world to shore up profitability outside of Japan. The move reflects the growing significance of a region where competition for the swelling number of millionaires is heating up and interest rates remain much higher than those of developed economies.

"We see the Asia region as becoming more and more important for the global economy," Mr Karkhanis said in an interview. "Pretty much all of the West is now operating at zero interest rates, and likely to remain at zero interest rates for a long time. The only high-quality yield, so safe yield as it were, is really in the Asian economies."

The firm is seeking to add sales staff and traders for private debt, delta one products - a type of derivative that's tied closely to the underlying asset - and macro business, its biggest revenue generator in the region, he said.

In wealth management, the hires will be for Greater China and South-east Asia, where about half of this year's additions are based. The bank recently picked up a team from a rival to cover Thailand and Vietnam, Mr Karkhanis said.

Nomura has separately hired about 170 people in China's mainland for a new securities joint venture that's initially focusing on wealth.

Mr Okuda, who became CEO in April, unveiled plans this week to recruit relationship managers in the Middle East and Asia excluding Japan, with a goal to boost assets under management there by five times to US$35 billion (S$46.8 billion).

Nomura's Asia wealth business entered Mr Karkhanis's orbit in April when the bank moved it to the wholesale division from retail. He is seeking to increase its contribution to global markets revenue to 20 per cent in the next two to three years.

The Asia and Oceania business is now in its seventh year of profits, underpinned by the global markets operation. Pretax income from the region climbed to the highest in five years in the quarter ended September.

Shares of Nomura were little changed on Thursday morning. The stock is down less than 1 per cent this year, having climbed more than 40 per cent from March lows.

Bond Boom

Fixed income revenue from Asia excluding Japan jumped to a record in the first half, thanks to market volatility stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Karkhanis said.

In normal times, the business accounts for about 60 per cent of global markets revenue in the region, followed by equities with 30 per cent and wealth 5-10 per cent, he said.

Progress on Nomura's most recent restructuring plan is giving Mr Okuda some room to expand. The firm has achieved most of the 140 billion yen (S$1.79 billion) in cost cuts under that initiative, which included exiting US high-yield bonds and shrinking trading in Europe.

Having made deep cuts in equities in 2012 and 2013, the firm has been rebuilding its non-cash business in the past two years to about 60 to 80 staff, primarily in derivatives, delta one and prime brokerage, Mr Karkhanis said.

Cash equities became profitable as a standalone operation for the first time this year, and there's a lot of cross-selling in the prime brokerage, equity products and fixed income space, he added. Headcount for that group has been constant at around 150 to 200 in the past few years, he said.

"We are not in headcount reduction mode" in cash equities, Mr Karkhanis said. "Cutting the business can affect our ability to grow other areas."

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