August 22, 2011 / 1:46 AM / 8 years ago

Humidity, volatility fail to deter banker flow to Asia

HONG KONG, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Abhay Pande is getting adjusted to Singapore’s year-round heat and tropical humidity. His living space is tighter, compared to the New York home where he and his family used to live.

Though the Citigroup banker misses the summer breeze and ample room of his suburban, U.S. Northeast life, he was pleased to find his work schedule buzzing with activity, the minute he arrived in Asia.

“They asked JFK why he was running for president and he said: ‘That’s where the action is.’ Professionally, this part of the world is where the action is,” said Pande, Citi’s head of industrials global banking for Southeast Asia. He arrived in Singapore about two weeks ago with his wife and two children.

Asia’s financial markets are down this year, and while hiring continues in certain areas, the industry is a long way off from its high-flying days before the credit crisis.

Still, a steady stream of U.S. and European-based bankers continue to make the long trek East, to cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, where the overall fee pool is smaller but where economic growth keeps business opportunities flowing.

The volume of primary stock offerings has grown every year since 2008, with Hong Kong the top city for IPOs globally the last two, at one point hosting more offerings than New York or London combined. Bond issuance hit a record last year.

Asia billionaires reached a record high of 332 this year according to Forbes magazine. That has helped fuel demand for jobs in Singapore, where Asia’s wealth management industry has historically been based.

“Over the next 20 to 40 years, Asia is going to be the principle growth driver for the global economy,” Pande said.

EX-PAT LIFE

Rajiv Lulla recently moved to Hong Kong, looking to get closer to Asian markets and to his family in India.

Lulla, Asia head of transportation investment banking for Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, started in the new job about three months ago.

He was previously based in Paris, where his wife would buy fresh produce and groceries every morning in a street market next to the home where they lived with their two sons.

She now slogs through Hong Kong’s famous wet markets, walking past loud and smelly stalls of bloody fish heads, dried seahorses and murky tanks of eels, bass, crabs and other crawling, slithering ocean life.

For those who prefer, expensive foreign produce and meats are available too in the high-end markets located closer to Hong Kong’s Central district, and the island’s upscale south side.

“Hong Kong is unique in that it provides tremendous opportunity to immerse yourself in the Chinese culture, but still retains the comforts of the west and what you’re used to,” said Lulla, who was unpacking the last boxes from the move last weekend.

Citigroup , which derived the majority of its global net income from Asia in the fourth quarter, has moved 10 directors to its Asia Pacific global banking business from other regions. RBS , Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse have also recently relocated bankers from London, New York and Paris.

AlixPartners, Fortress Investment Group , Fidelity Investments and Bank of New York Mellon shifted executives this year to Hong Kong and Singapore from cities such as Pittsburgh, Chicago and Stockholm.

Apart from the business opportunities, financial industry executives are also drawn to the Asia expatriate lifestyle, which rarely changes despite market volatility; An easy commute to work, lower taxes, exciting travel, top tier international schools and high-quality, affordable domestic help.

The overseas life is not always one of excitement and luxury. Stories abound of individuals and families quickly heading back, either because a job opportunity dried up, the lifestyle adjustment was too extreme, the distance from home too great, or a combination of all three.

For Simon Clarke, a managing director at Citi Private Bank who moved to Hong Kong in December, the 10-minute cab ride to work is as good a reason as any for his new environs. A far shorter trip than his London work haul, his time is now freed up to network or play field hockey for a local team in nearby Happy Valley.

“One of the main benefits of Hong Kong is the lack of a commute, because it means that you have more time to spend with people or play sports,” Clarke added. “As far as private banking is concerned, Asia is where the money is and clearly Hong Kong is the gateway to China, which is a huge centre.” (Reporting by Elzio Barreto; Editing by Michael Flaherty)

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