Bank of America Closing Gap With JPMorgan in Asia Deals Race

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Bank of America Corp. is catching up to its biggest rival, JPMorgan Chase & Co., in investment banking in Asia-Pacific as a three-year rebuild of the business with a focus on winning big deals starts paying off.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank has closed a “significant gap” to the third-ranked JPMorgan in fees generated in Asia Pacific, placing right behind it, Peter Guenthardt, the firm’s co-head of investment banking in the region, said in an interview. “We’re pretty much neck-and-neck,” he said, declining to give specific details.

The moves in Asia align with a global ambition outlined by Matthew Koder, head of global corporate and investment banking, to become top three in industry rankings for every sector, region and product. In the second quarter, the bank earned a record $2.1 billion in investment banking fees, the third-highest globally.

Investment banking now contributes about 15% to Bank of America’s overall business in Asia, doubling from three years ago, according to people familiar with the details, who asked not to be named discussing internal matters. That comes at a time when dealmaking is booming while low interest rates put pressure on other areas of banking.

Guenthardt said the bank has “significantly” increased the number of “outsized fee events,” including working on initial public offerings in Hong Kong for Baidu Inc. and Kuaishou Technology.

Its Asia-Pacific investment-banking revenue has grown to about $700 million, according to the people familiar. The division’s headcount in the region reached about 300 after it recruited more than 70 bankers this year, including recent graduates, the people said.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley each have more than $1 billion in revenue, excluding Japan, the people said.

Guenthardt declined to comment on the hiring. The bank didn’t break out divisional numbers for Asia. Spokespeople at JPMorgan, Goldman and Morgan Stanley all declined to comment.

Revenue Growth

Gains in deal-making has put Bank of America less than $20 million away from JPMorgan, which is in third place for the year in the region behind Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, a spokesman for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank said, citing data from Dealogic Inc. That narrows the gap from a couple of hundred million dollars three years ago, the spokesperson said.

In one key metric, equity underwriting, the bank now ranks fifth among international banks in Asia Pacific, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s one spot ahead of JPMorgan, which has dropped from third last year.

Still, Bank of America is among foreign banks facing headwinds from a regulatory crackdown in China’s technology sector that’s derailed the U.S. listing plans of a number of firms. Unlike most peers, the lender lacks a securities operation on the mainland, where other Wall Street names have been beefing up their businesses.

The bank is instead eyeing tech listings in Southeast Asia and India, and focusing more on health-care and consumer deals in China, Guenthardt said.

“The non-China market will benefit from the fact that you have a lot of global investors looking for alternatives and investing in Asia growth,” he said. “At the moment, it’s very difficult for them to invest in U.S.-listed Chinese tech names.”

Guenthardt, who used to head Southeast Asia and Singapore for the bank, was brought in by Koder to run the region’s advisory business in 2019 with Alex To, a former top dealmaker at Morgan Stanley. The lender also moved veteran bankers Matt Basler and Craig Coben to Hong Kong in August last year as co-heads of capital markets for Asia-Pacific.

Winning business in Asia is important since more than half the region’s clients are first-time fee payers, driven by a surge in the number of highly valued startup unicorns going public. Repeat clients are concentrated in Japan and Australia, Guenthardt said.

Guenthardt has recently hired six managing directors across Asia, including ex-JPMorgan banker Winnie Ng, who is co-head of Asia real estate and head of Hong Kong coverage. Aayush Jhunjunwala came on board from Citigroup Inc. to take on a new role for technology coverage in Southeast Asia. Kevin Yang, was hired from China Merchants Securities (HK) to focus on China deals and Subhrajit Roy, formerly with Kotak Securities Ltd., was hired as head of global capital markets.

Australia Deals

In Australia, Karl Rozman joined from Credit Suisse Group AG and Tim Ryan was hired from CBRE to cover energy and real estate respectively. The bank has been rebuilding there since former Goldman Sachs rainmaker Joe Fayyad took over as country head in 2019.

The team advised on four deals valued at a combined $3.6 billion announced Monday, including Citigroup Inc.’s sale of its retail operations to National Australia Bank, and Da-Ichi Life Holdings Inc.’s $660 million purchase of Westpac Banking Corp.’s life insurance assets. Bank of America advised the buyer in both cases.

Meanwhile, Bank of America has been slowly casting off some of the risk minimization that it had carried as a legacy from the 2008 financial crisis. While frequently repeating a mantra of “responsible growth,” Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan said in 2018 that the investment-banking division had got a “a little too careful.” The advisory business share of its overall revenue is smaller than its Wall Street rivals because its corporate banking and treasury services has made up a big chunk of its income.

Guenthardt said the global push is enabling it to continue committing resources to build its franchise in Asia.

“The good thing is that it is easy to have that conversation with New York because the strategy is globally aligned,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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