Mumbai: Following billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s motto of being greedy when others are fearful, some Indian brokerages are expanding into asset and wealth management at a time of global economic slowdown.
And they are hiring—a sure indicator of expansion—at a discount people laid off by financial services powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Co. Inc. (now taken over by Bank of America Corp.), Citigroup Inc. and Barlcays Bank Plc.
“There is availability of people at a cheaper cost. People are willing to take pay cuts,” said Sanjeev Patni, head of institutional equities at local brokerage Centrum Broking Pvt. Ltd.
Lower cost: BlackRock Inc’s Laurence D. Fink says slowdown is a great time to expand.
Though Patni declined to put a number on hires, the brokerage has applied for registration in seven US states and Europe, where it plans to sell India-focused investment plans to institutional investors. “It is much easier to build a business during these times,” he said.
The meltdown in the US financial system has shaken the world economy and forced brokers, investment bankers and consultancy firms to shed staff to ride out the downturn. India, where the economy is predicted to slow by three to four percentage points from 9%, has been no exception.
The instances are many. Motilal Oswal Securities Ltd, Edelweiss Capital Ltd, India Infoline Ltd and Anand Rathi Securities Pvt. Ltd have cut jobs as equity trading volumes halved in 2008 compared with a year ago. The same is true of finance companies such as Indiabulls Commercial Credit, a subsidiary of Indiabulls Financial Services Ltd, GE Money Financial Services Ltd, Fullerton India Credit Co. Ltd, Barclays Investments and Loans (India) Ltd and Citifinancial Consumer Finance India Ltd.
But for a few others, this is a window to expansion precisely because there are many qualified and experienced people hunting for jobs.
“This is the time we can get the talent we couldn’t get earlier,” said Shalini Kamath, managing director, corporate communications and human resources at brokerage Ambit Holdings Pvt. Ltd. The brokerage is expanding its institutional equities business and consolidating its private banking and wealth management businesses.
Kamath said many of those being hired were laid off in the recent turmoil from bigger firms.
“Businesses are built over the long term and over many cycles,” said Sameer Koticha, director at local financial services firm ASK Group. “Short-term trends should not alter the business building processes.” ASK, which began by providing financial research and stockbroking services, is now expanding into wealth advisory, real estate, insurance broking and asset management.
“Those who are hiring in this market are probably those who will not get the best of talent in a bull market environment,” said K. Sudharshan, managing partner, EMA Partners International, an executive search firm. He said further rationalization is on its way when companies take stock of the annual performance in March-April.
To be sure, the latest hiring spree by local firms may not have added to net employment in financial services. Reliable data on this is not available.
A human resources consultant said such claims of hiring in a downturn need to be taken with a pinch of salt. “They might be hiring, but have they also fired more than they’re hiring. You need to look at the net numbers,” he said, requesting anonymity.
It’s not only local firms that are looking to hire. For instance, even as DSP Merrill Lynch Ltd, the investment banking and institutional equities joint venture of Merrill Lynch in India, has cut jobs, its Indian owner Hemendra Kothari’s other joint venture in asset management with BlackRock Inc. is set to expand its presence in India.
In a recent interview with Mint, Laurence D. Fink, chairman and chief executive officer of BlackRock, which partly owns DSP BlackRock Investment Managers Ltd, said the firm wants to be much larger in mutual funds in India and expects to expand this year at a time when so many firms are contracting. That means adding more distribution offices, building some of their global products in India and growing its presence in the institutional business.
“The fallacy with so many firms is that they grow when everyone’s bullish. That’s the wrong time to grow,” Fink had then said. “I look at this (slowdown) as a great time to start building our platform when the markets begin its ascendancy again.”