John Choi named CIMB head of N Asia equities

The Malaysian bank also hires two people for its Hong Kong and China sales team, names a new regional head of research and makes a move into Vietnam.

John Choi, regional head of sales at Malaysia-based CIMB, will take on an additional role as head of North Asia equities in the next few weeks.

He is replacing Peter Irvine who is moving into a new position in the office of CIMB chief executive Nazir Razak as of November 1.

This will allow Irvine to spend more time with his family in the UK as much of the special projects and strategic issues that he will be working on can be done from a distance. Irvine says he expects to spend more time in the UK and less time in Hong Kong compared to today as well as some time in Kuala Lumpur.

The move comes as the physical integration of the Asian cash equities and research businesses that CIMB acquired from Royal Bank of Scotland in 2012 has been completed. The last piece of that was the opening of the Taiwan brokerage business on July 1.

Irvine’s second job as deputy head of regional equities, which was always intended to be a transitional position during the initial integration phase, will disappear.

With that phase now out of the way, CIMB’s co-head of regional research, Toh Hoon Chew, will step down and leave the bank to pursue other interests outside the industry in the next couple of weeks.

Chew joined CIMB in 2002 after seven years with CLSA, Jardine Fleming Securities and JP Morgan, and was named regional head of research in 2005. He will be succeeded in that role by Jim McCafferty, who has been co-head of regional research since the RBS takeover.

Like Choi and Irvine on the sales side, McCafferty is a former RBS employee and the elevation of more of those guys to top positions within CIMB is a sign that the two businesses are growing into one. To support McCafferty, CIMB has appointed Kelvin Goh as deputy head of research. Goh is based in Kuala Lumpur and will be overseeing the research coverage on Asean.

CIMB has also hired two new senior sales people for its Hong Kong and China sales team, bringing the total sales force focusing on these two markets to six people. Sisi Li has joined from Keywise Capital Management and Victoria Le has come on board from Goldpebble Research, where she was head of sales.

Before joining Keywise in 2010, Li spent two years in Hong Kong and China sales at Goldman Sachs, while Le worked close to five years as a Hong Kong and China specialist on Deutsche Bank’s Asian equity sales desk in Singapore before moving to Goldpebble last year.

Including these new hires, Choi estimates that CIMB has just over 75 institutional sales people globally, of which about 55 are based in Asia ex-Japan.

Meanwhile, as the RBS acquisition is increasingly falling into place within the wider organisation and CIMB is getting a better understanding of its overall resources, the bank has started to fill in some of the remaining gaps in order to become a truly regional business.

Matthew Kirkby, co-head of investment banking for Asia-Pacific and country head for North Asia, told FinanceAsia on Wednesday that CIMB has signed an agreement to set up a joint venture in Vietnam with a yet-to-be-disclosed local partner and it is also in the process of obtaining a banking license in Laos.

“[CIMB CEO] Nazir Razak is passionate about having an Asean offering and clearly Vietnam was one of the missing pieces,” Kirkby said.

McCafferty added that the joint venture will give CIMB access to a well-respected research team in Vietnam and will bring the number of stocks covered by the Malaysian bank in Asia above the 1,000 mark.

“We have identified 20 [Vietnamese] companies with a market cap of about $500 million, which will appeal to some of the investors we are talking to,” McCafferty said.

The addition of Vietnam means the firm will have equity analysts on the ground in 10 markets around Asean and the rest of Asia.

McCafferty is also making some key changes to CIMB’s equity research offering going into 2014. First, he aims to have analysts in different countries coordinate the sector coverage across borders to gain an understanding of what is happening on a regional level and to better match the pan-Asian perspective of many global fund managers.

Where CIMB can differentiate itself in this respect, added Kirkby, is in the smaller markets where it owns all its analysts (as opposed to the bulge-bracket firms that tend to work with joint venture partners), and in some of the Asean markets where CIMB’s penetration among small and mid-caps, which often act as suppliers to the large caps, gives it a more bottom-up approach.

Another ambition is to make the research less reactive. “We probably want to reduce the absolute level of the research output and reorient the productivity towards what we call thematic or scenario-based research,” McCafferty said. “What the fund manager community that we are trying to serve wants to see from analysts is ideas about where a particular industry is going to be in two years’ time and views of how some of the big trends will impact that industry.”

John Choi bio
Choi is currently based in Seoul but will be relocating to Hong Kong as he takes on his new role as head of North Asia equities.

He joined CIMB in connection with its takeover of RBS last year after more than 12 years with RBS/ABN Amro. During that time, he held a number of different sales positions focusing primarily on Korea and Taiwan, and was also regional head of sales in periods, including the final year before the move to CIMB. He also ran the Korean office.

Earlier in his career he worked for JP Morgan as a banks analyst and also spent nine years as a banker with Bank of Montreal in New York and Singapore.

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