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U.S. banks are looking for a new kind of generalist in Hong Kong

US banks are on the hunt for bankers to lead advisory teams specialising in environmental, social and governance (ESG) as they play catch up with European peers.

US banks want senior bankers with ESG expertise, with at least one big international bank looking to hire a head of ESG advisory for the Asia-Pacific region.  ESG advisory is a new area of expertise,  so it’s not easy to find seasoned experts. bankers with experience in energy, technology and industrials will find themselves in demand.

European banks been quicker than many of their US rivals by staffing up ESG-focused teams globally and now they are rolling them out on a regional basis.  In February, UBS appointed Brendan Tu to the newly-created role as head of ESG advisory for APAC, based in Hong Kong. Tu was perviously head of fintech and business services for UBS in Asia and rejoined the bank after a stint as chief investments officer at Foxcoon Industrial Internet.

“A number of US banks are playing catch-up and we’re seeing some re-treads,” said one Hong Kong-based headhunter, referring to bankers that have prior experience in a different industry group. “Bankers that are helping their energy and mining clients with in their transition plans to reduce emissions are well-placed to take these opportunities.”  

UBS’s appointment of Tu followed the launch of its APAC Sustainable Finance Office, which the bank says it is staffing with ESG resources across our two major APAC hubs in Hong Kong and Singapore. Tasos Zavitsanakis, Head of Sustainable Finance Greater China at UBS, told efinancialCareers: “In recent years, we have seen hundreds of our corporate clients commit to sustainability, and in APAC there has been explosive growth in green financing in both the equity and debt capital markets, as well as ESG-driven strategic investments  As a global investment bank, we are committed to supporting our clients on their ESG journeys through fund-raising, transition advisory and aligning capital to the new normal.”

UBS has been co-chairing the Capacity Building working group as part of the Green and Sustainable Finance Cross Agency Steering Group, which was set up in 2020 following collaboration between a number of bodies including the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the Securities and Futures Commission. UBS says its role on the working group includes developing recommendations on how to increase the ESG talent pool in Hong Kong.  

Until now, many big US banks have resisted the temptation to establish dedicated teams, instead preferring to serve the ESG needs of their clients from their existing industry teams, but this could change as Chinese companies focus on energy transition. Citi is something of an outlier among the US banks because it established sustainability and corporate transitions group (SCT) two years ago.  Last September, the bank named Rapheal Erasmusas the newly-created head of (SCT) within its  banking capital markets and advisory (BCMA) group in APAC.  Now, according to headhunters, rivals are looking to follow suit.

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