By Lawrence White
Hong Kong, March 7 (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has hired Morgan Stanley's Asia investment banking head Kate Richdale, the most senior banker in the region to switch firms so far this year.
Richdale will be head of investment banking services for Asia ex-Japan, according to an internal memo obtained by Reuters on Thursday, putting her in charge of client relationships in a region where banks are focusing on high-paying clients rather than broad coverage lists.
"It's a pretty high profile hire," said Philippe Espinasse, a former investment banker with Nomura and UBS in Hong Kong, adding that Richdale's fluent Mandarin and Southeast Asia experience make her a "well-rounded and seasoned" executive.
Morgan Stanley will replace Richdale with Dieter Turowski and Shane Zhang as co-heads of investment banking for Asia Pacific, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Richdale's appointment comes at a time when investment banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are struggling to recapture the fee levels they earned in Asia in the past, as the region's high level of economic growth is tempered by a dwindling flow of large IPOs and other equity offerings.
Those deals had been the source of Asia's juiciest fees in the last decade. Banks are working now to focus on fewer clients than in the past, targeting those most likely to pay large and repeat fees.
Richdale's role at Morgan Stanley made her one of the region's top bankers, and one of the few women in Asia to hold such a high ranking. Another top Asia banker is Morgan Stanley's, Wei Sun Christianson, co-Chief Executive of Asia Pacific.
Richdale's departure from Morgan Stanley is a major hire for Goldman and puts some distance between her and Wei, with whom she had a longstanding personality clash, according to sources at the bank. A Morgan Stanley spokesman declined to comment.
Speculation of Richdale leaving had built up last year, amid re-shuffling at the bank's New York headquarters.
Richdale will report to Goldman's Asia Pacific investment banking co-heads, Matthew Westerman and Dan Dees.
The early part of the calendar year is usually when banks begin to see movement at the top, with year-end bonuses paid out and other factors contributing to job movement.
This February, Bank of America has hired Credit Suisse's Olivier Thiriet as head of Asia Pacific equities and the same bank's George Lin as head of consumer, retail and healthcare investment banking. It also nabbed Deutsche Bank's Richard Yacenda as chief operating officer for the region.
Europe-based Turowski was most recently the global co-head of natural resources, while Zhang is the bank's co-head of China investment banking.
A 13-year veteran of Morgan Stanley, Richdale will join Goldman Sachs as a partner, a coveted title at the bank because of its prestige and high compensation. She was named as Morgan Stanley's sole head of investment banking for Asia-Pacific two years ago to the day, in a reshuffle that saw her co-head, Gokul Laroia, become the boss of the equities division.
Goldman will hope to benefit from Richdale's experience in Southeast Asia, a region where the US investment bank has sometimes lagged rivals in the past and where it has redeployed resources recently. It moved Steve Barg from Hong Kong to Singapore in July to become co-head of investment banking for the sub-region.
From 2003 to 2006 Richdale was head of investment banking for Southeast Asia at Morgan Stanley, becoming CEO for the region in 2007. She is known internally for her good relations with Singapore's government fund Temasek, a repeat Morgan Stanley client, according to the source at the bank.
Richdale is the third Morgan Stanley Asia veteran to defect to another bank in the last year. Will McLane, the head of the financial institutions group for Asia Pacific, went to Citi in July and Jonathan Popper, the firm's top mergers and acquisitions banker in Southeast Asia, went to Temasek this January.