As deals dry up more Singapore bankers seek exit to sovereign wealth funds

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As deals dry up in Southeast Asia, an increasing number of Singapore-based investment bankers are contacting recruiters about moving to GIC, the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, or Temasek, the state investment company.

“Over the past six months I’ve seen more banking candidates than ever wanting to join the two asset managers,” says Christina Ng, executive director at LMA Recruitment in Singapore. “These aren’t underperformers either, they’re good-calibre people who could just as well get another job in banking.”

The recent spike in applications is most noticeable at the senior end, says Nick Wells, a director at search firm Webber Chase in Singapore. “GIC and Temasek are unique in the SWF market. They’re now viewed as tier-one financial institutions – the equivalent of joining a top investment bank – so they are attracting senior candidates,” he explains.

Farida Charania, Asia Pacific CEO of search firm Nastrac Group, agrees: “I’ve recently placed senior bankers into SWFs and that is now creating more interest among those who haven’t yet made the move.”

There are several reasons why investment bankers in Singapore are becoming more interested in joining GIC and Temasek. Many are contrasting the recent “lack of vibrancy in the regional IBD market” (revenues from investment banking in Southeast Asia dropped 14% to $621m as of mid-August) to the “career stability of working for a state organisation,” says Ng. “These are sovereign funds, not your normal buy-side firms – they aren’t going away, they're here for the long term,” she adds.

Despite the slump in revenues this year, bankers are also citing burn-out among their motivations. “You wouldn’t believe how many banking professional are calling me these days about wanting to improve their work-life balance. Who would have thought that so many would become so bothered about work-wife balance – after all, this is Asia and this is investment banking,” says Ng. “Jobs at the funds are challenging, but the work-life balance is perceived to be better – there’s not so much travel, for example.”

A longing to escape the banking sector isn’t the only reason candidates are applying to GIC and Temasek – there are also pull factors. “The recent readjustment of GIC’s asset allocation strategy and a slate of publicly visible investments within real estate and fintech have piqued the curiosity of investment banking and buy-side professionals,” says Yimin Lam, manager of recruitment firm Robert Walters in Singapore.

Meanwhile, the compensation gap between banks and the state investors continues to narrow because investment bankers in Singapore are generally receiving smaller bonuses than they were five years ago.

People from front-office banking roles typically end up in research analyst, corporate finance, business development and portfolio investment jobs at GIC and Temasek, say recruiters. “Niche transactional experience in particular industries that the funds are interest in, especially infrastructure and IT, is also sought after,” says Gary Lai, Southeast Asia managing director at recruiters Charterhouse Partnership. Middle-office moves – risk, compliance and internal audit – are even more common.

“In the past there was more hesitancy to move from banking as the fund jobs were thought of as an ‘easier option’ from which there was no going back if you wanted to in the future,” says Ng from LMA. “Now it’s seen as good for your career to get a taste of the other side.”

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