Barclays’ Asian staff will “struggle” to find new work as job cuts spread to middle office

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Anxious investment bankers at Barclays in Hong Kong and Singapore are already calling headhunters following mounting speculation that the firm is planning extra job cuts in Asia. But most are being told that the job market is far too tough for them to find new work elsewhere.

Barclays is reportedly considering making additional cuts to its Asian securities unit and its global cash equities business, on top of 7,000 jobs losses already announced. As we noted yesterday, the combined new cuts could affect 30% of its equities sales and trading staff.

Barclays employs about 400 people in its Asian investment bank. Sources we spoke with say they expect a significant number of these jobs to be culled in line with new Barclays CEO Jes Staley’s plans to focus on the firm’s larger and more profitable UK and US businesses. Asian revenues at Barclays amounted to $1.2bn in 2014, about 3% of the global total.

“In Asia, financial advisory and cash equities people, especially underperformers, are most at risk as Barclays has been delivering less-than-expected profits in the region,” says a banking sector consultant in Hong Kong who asked not to be named.

Nick Green, managing director at Hong Kong search firm Carraway Group, says Barclays’ cutting back in Asia “isn’t surprising”. “As a client, unless you have a particularly strong relationship with a Barclays banker, there usually isn’t a good enough reason to choose Barclays over J.P. Morgan or Credit Suisse, for example. Barclays in Asia doesn’t have enough unique selling points.”

Several recruiters in Hong Kong and Singapore say they have taken calls from nervous Barclays staff over the past few days. “Even if you haven’t been laid off yet, morale is often low especially when you read press announcements about jobs being on the line,” says Green. “Internal competition builds and it’s not exactly a collegiate environment to work in, so it’s no wonder they’re getting in touch.”

Bankers exiting Barclays in Asia face an increasingly tight job market, however. Standard CharteredDeutsche Bank, Macquarie and RBS have also culled local jobs recently, so competition for new vacancies in the post-bonus period early next year is likely to be fiercer than ever.

“Barclays people will struggle as the IB markets in Singapore and Hong Kong are pretty flat,” says a recruiter in Singapore who’s worked with the British bank and asked not to be named. “Headcounts are reducing within investment banking divisions across the board in Asia as sales and trading activity and revenue isn’t what it used to be.”

The Singapore recruiter says that “expensive senior people in the front office will struggle the most to find new jobs”. As we reported last month, global investment banks in Asia – who are increasingly losing ground to mainland firms in the onshore Chinese market – are reducing costs by replacing managing directors with cheaper, less experienced bankers.

“If you’re coming out of Barclays other banks will ask whether you ‘own’ your clients and can bring them to us and monetise them once they’re here,” says Green. “They’ll also look at whether you’re better than the incumbent already doing a similar job in your area – so it’s not an easy process.”

Meanwhile, two sources close to the bank in Asia have told us that Barclays is also cutting risk and finance jobs in Hong Kong and Singapore. “We’re certainly talking to quite a number of Barclays candidates, particularly in middle office functions such as finance and risk, who are unsettled,” says one of the sources, a recruiter. “It’s a similar story to RBS in Asia 18 months ago.”

A Barclays spokesperson in Singapore declined to comment.

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