Deutsche Bank’s Asian dealmakers exodus

Cost-cutting and sinking morale prompt deal makers to leave, adding pressure to the German lender’s turnaround efforts


HONG KONG • Deutsche Bank AG, the German lender that’s struggling to enact a turnaround, has seen a surge in turnover among investment bankers in Asia since May, as cost-cutting and sinking morale has prompted dealmakers to leave, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Almost 50 bankers in Hong Kong and Singapore have left in the past six months, or about 30% of the investment- banking workforce before the departures, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t public. Eight MDs and roughly a dozen directors have gone, they said.

Deutsche Bank hired about 35 bankers in the two financial hubs recently to replenish its ranks, though the new staffers are more junior, one of the people said.

Turbulence in the ranks of dealmakers, in a region where fees have increased much faster than elsewhere over the past five years, underscores the uphill battle facing CEO Christian Sewing as he tries to arrest a slide in revenue. Deutsche Bank’s tumbling stock, a string of scandals and a global drive to cut costs have dented employee morale, current and former bankers in Asia said.

Among those Deutsche Bank recruited in Hong Kong and Singapore are three MDs and one director, one person said. A representative for Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

At least 20 bankers based in Hong Kong decamped for rivals, according to people with knowledge of the moves and a Bloomberg News analysis of data from the local securities regulator and LinkedIn profiles.

Among the most senior executives who have left for other financial-industry jobs are:

Keyvan Zolfaghari, an MD who was head of capital markets solutions for Asia Pacific, joined Goldman Sachs Group Inc; James Thomson, an MD who was Asia head of transportation and aviation, went to Natixis SA; Duncan Mann, an MD who was formerly heading financial sponsors coverage in the region, left for Credit Suisse Group AG; Wu Xiaopin, an MD who ran equity capital markets for China, joined Ant Financial Services Group; Virginia Zhang, a director in the China financial institutions group, joined JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The five executives declined to comment or couldn’t immediately be reached.

Sewing said in May that he wanted to keep Deutsche Bank “strong” in Asia even as he shuts offices and businesses elsewhere. He also pledged not to exit any country in the region. But restoring the firm to its former glory is a tall order: Deutsche Bank has lost market share in regional mergers advisory, as well as equity and debt underwriting over the past few years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Some of the people who left in Hong Kong and Singapore were let go by the bank, one of the people said without naming them. A key part of Sewing’s push to restore profitability is cutting costs at the corporate and investment bank, which shed more than 1,000 front-office positions in the six months to Sept 30.

Deutsche Bank has also focused on hiring university graduates rather than expensive senior executives.

There are some promising signs. Deutsche Bank’s share of total investment-banking fees in the Asia-Pacific region rose in the first half from a year earlier, according to research firm Coalition Development Ltd, which didn’t give an exact ranking. The firm won a role on SoftBank Group Corp’s US$23 billion (RM96.14 billion) initial public offering of its domestic telecom unit and also advised on Ant Financial’s US$14 billion fundraising.

While fee growth in Asia Pacific far outpaced that of the Americas and Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the first half, it remains a much smaller market, Coalition data show.

In August, regional head of corporate and investment banking James McMurdo said his division had almost finished restructuring and planned to add bankers in the following months. The investment banking unit had gained market share and increased productivity, according to McMurdo.

Deutsche Bank has been shifting its focus from serving Chinese state-owned enterprises to primarily advising private companies such as Ant Financial and reducing the number of clients to focus on the biggest names, one of the people said.