The Insider: Earning your Asian wings

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Should you really be upping sticks for Asia? asks 'George Trower', our undercover banker.

In this environment of market turmoil, one beacon of light for the investment banking industry remains the Asian opportunity.

Asia, of course, has also been afflicted by the credit crisis, but general sentiments regarding the region over the mid to long term are generally bullish, with JPMorgan and Barclays Capital just two of the banks to have announced ambitious hiring plans there. But should bankers in London and New York really stake their careers on a move east?

The pros

Moving to Asia has several things in its favour.

You will broaden your experience. Credibility is underpinned by real experience and the ability to talk to clients about your direct exposure to different markets is genuinely valuable. It's one thing to quote your daily report on market events in the Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo markets, but it's a whole different proposition to be able to advise on the culture, the behavioural patterns of local market participants and the regulatory, political and economic environment as seen from the ground up.

You will show your corporate loyalty. Want me to go to Hong Kong? Sure thing, boss. Anything for the mother ship.

You can more easily outperform. If you're good in mature markets, you are no more than that because there's an enormously competitive talent pool jostling in the same space. Developing markets still have relatively shallow local talent pools, even if they are deepening - consequently, the opportunity to shine is far greater.

Lower taxes. Enough said.

The cons

You'll likely be moving away from the power base. Let's not kid ourselves, performance is important but key appointments are judgment calls about people and if you are not known and respected by the key decision makers, you will likely get passed over for the best opportunities.

You can become typecast if you stay too long - "Sure, you have run deals in the Asian markets, but we need experience in our markets, and the last time you did a deal here was eight years ago."

Showing your corporate loyalty is not always reciprocated.

In my experience, I have seen equivocal evidence for the benefit of relocating to Asia. One executive I know was asked to go to Hong Kong for the standard two to three years and promised promotions and increased responsibility upon return. He ultimately ended up feeling that he had actually been passed over as the power base shifted around back in London in his absence.

Another executive, a more senior one, went out and knocked the ball out of the park in terms of performance. She went out clearly on the radar of the decision makers - and remained so because she did so well. When a plum opportunity opened up in New York, she was recalled and promoted to a senior position.

Should you stay or should you go? Every case is different, but you should look past the platitudes and judge the opportunity on its merits: reporting lines, size of opportunity, visibility, who your sponsors are, etc. And if that fails - just think of the nearby beaches in Indonesia.

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