BoA Merrill hopes for new highs with Loh

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has lured Loh Boon Chye to the bank to become the deputy president for Asia-Pacific and head of Asia-Pacific global markets.
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BoA Merrill's latest addition: Loh Boon Chye
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<div style="text-align: left;"> BoA Merrill's latest addition: Loh Boon Chye </div>

Some hires are good for morale. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s success in wooing former Deutsche Bank “flow monster” Loh Boon Chye to the firm is a coup worth crowing about.

BoA Merrill bankers at the IMF conference in Japan, many of whom received confirmation of the hire through the internal memo that went out yesterday, were positively chuffed. “I can’t believe we’ve been able to get him into the franchise,” said one.

Asia-Pacific president Matthew Koder announced that Loh will join the firm in December as his deputy president and head of Asia-Pacific global markets. Loh will also assume the country executive role for Singapore and Southeast Asia, and will be a member of the Asia-Pacific executive committee.

Even competitors on the street effectively dropped their jaws — and began gossiping immediately about why Loh left Deutsche. His departure was announced in March, after the firm promoted Rob Rankin to become the co-head of corporate banking and securities, and head of corporate finance, based in London. That left the top post in Asia-Pacific open. The obvious successor was Loh, Deutsche’s then head of corporate and investment banking in the region. But he announced he was leaving after 17 years with the bank and, instead, Gunit Chadha, Deutsche’s then CEO for India, and Alan Cloete, who was at the time head of global finance and foreign exchange, jointly took on the CEO role for Asia-Pacific.

“[BoA Merrill] must have thrown a lot of money at him to get him on board,” said a competitor.

But insiders at BoA Merill have a different view. “He was getting offers left, right and centre, for sure,” said one. “But here’s a guy who buys into what we’re trying to do, he’s not just taking a pay cheque — he doesn’t need that. He could have taken a job at any bulge-bracket firm, and when that’s the case it’s not the highest bidder, it’s more about what you’re trying to do.”

BoA Merrill is in a position to make that argument — as it has been hiring heavy hitters. In April, the firm wooed Rodney Ward from Koder’s ex-firm UBS, and appointed him as chairman of Asia-Pacific global corporate and investment banking, which was a newly created role. In August, the firm hired Stephen Gore (also from UBS) to head mergers and acquisitions in Asia-Pacific ex-Japan. He will be based in Hong Kong and is likely to take up his position during the final quarter of the year.

And in perhaps the biggest coup, it is often mooted by market sources that it was Koder’s move that tipped the balance in Alex Wilmot-Sitwell’s decision to join the US firm from UBS as president of Europe, Middle East and Africa for BoA Merrill.

But for Loh, no doubt, the issue can’t just be about building — he’s got to be looking at BoA Merrill and questioning if its hires are panning out, and if its business plans have legs. We hear that since Ivo Distelbrink joined BoA Merill as Asia head of global treasury services, after leaving Citi as head of treasury and trade solutions for Asia-Pacific and Japan in 2010, BoA Merrill’s revenues from the trade business are said to have increased multiple times. That’s the sort of proof in business planning that has the power to lure.

“Our ability to attract the very best people, who share our vision, is a testament to the strength of our franchise globally and locally,” said Koder. “The Asia-Pacific region offers us an unprecedented opportunity in terms of profitability and growth. Boon Chye’s appointment strengthens our team even more and accelerates our development as a market leader.”

Mr Asia
“Loh is Mr Southeast Asia,” said a source. “Actually, I’m sure he’d say he’s Mr Asia.”

Indeed, he has more than 20 years of experience working in investment banking and capital markets in the region. He became head of corporate and investment banking for Deutsche Bank Asia-Pacific in 2010, after eight years as the head of Deutsche’s global markets business in Asia, during which time he successfully built its markets platform across the region.

Loh started his career in finance as an investment officer with the Monetary Authority of Singapore in 1989, and in 1992 joined the Singapore branch of Morgan Guaranty Trust Co of New York, managing its Southeast Asia fixed-income and derivatives business.

He played a key role in the development of the capital markets in Southeast Asia throughout his career, holding a number of important advisory positions. He was the deputy president of ACI Singapore in 1999, and he was a non-independent director of the Singapore Exchange from 2004 to 2012. He was also council member at the Institute of Banking & Finance Singapore and until recently he chaired the Singapore Foreign Exchange Market Committee.

“Boon Chye brings to our business a deep understanding of the markets and extensive leadership experience in the region,” said Tom Montag, co-chief operating officer of Bank of America. “We are thrilled to have a leader of his calibre joining our Asia-Pacific team.”

Observers note that the hire of Loh lays down a marker beyond the investment banking and capital markets arenas, where Koder built his reputation. BoA Merrill has now clearly staked a claim that it is serious about becoming a market leader in the global markets business at the same time as it continues to invest in its corporate banking platform.

But while his appointment is definitely a coup, no firm can get away from the fact that now is the time to be lean and mean. And so efficiency is the mantra. Loh is expected to continue to streamline the sales and trading business by continuing to integrate the fixed-income and equities divisions, while at the same time making sure they are talking with the corporate and investment banking businesses. The honeymoon period will no doubt be short and he’ll be expected to deliver quickly.

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