Ashford Benjamin Launches in Hong Kong

April 15, 2016 – Search industry veteran Ben Cooper has launched executive search firm Ashford Benjamin Ltd., which will initially focus on legal and compliance search mandates. Located in Hong Kong, the firm will serve law firms, financial institutions and multinational companies across a range of industries on middle to senior level search assignments.

Ashford Benjamin is currently leading searches for a corporate partner and a litigation partner for a global law firm, a head of compliance for a life insurance firm, and a director level equities legal hire for a major financial institution.

Mr. Cooper has over a decade of experience conducting search assignments for lawyers and compliance professionals, including head of legal & compliance, general counsel and partner appointments. He is a former barrister of England & Wales and an associate member of the Hong Kong Law Society.

Previously, Mr. Cooper was managing director at GRMSearch, a recruiting firm specializing in the legal, compliance, insurance, banking and asset management sectors. Before that, he was a senior recruitment consultant and head of the legal division at London-based financial recruitment business Goodman Masson.

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“After listening carefully to the needs of clients and candidates throughout my career, I decided to set up a new search firm to realize my vision of what the market clearly needed,” said Mr. Cooper. “The idea was not to start ‘just another’ search firm, but to fill a gap in the market and to offer clients and candidates a heightened level of service. The business is also structured in such a way that it is able to grow while maintaining this unique, client-centric approach.” Mr. Cooper was voted the No. 1 legal and compliance recruiter in Asia by AsiaMoney.

Legal recruiting generally has been booming this year, with the employment of lawyers projected to grow 10 percent through 2022.

“The recruitment market is still busy at the partner level in law firms in Asia Pacific, and this is expected to continue. Litigation partners are in particularly high demand, especially those with mandarin skills,” said Mr. Cooper. “At associate level, law firms are continuing to hire, but with more caution due to the uncertainty in the market. Many are predicting an increase in insolvency and restructuring work, although this has not yet translated into a large volume of immediate hiring needs.”

Banks, he said, are hiring specialist regulatory legal teams, primarily focused on global markets. But there  has been a hiring slow down of transactional legal and compliance teams for most banks, although those that are realigning their global strategy have a genuine focus to continue to hire, said Mr. Cooper.

Litigation and investigations teams have seen an upturn in work and are hiring, although there are often needs in this area, as many lawyers in Hong Kong lack the requisite regulatory investigations skills, he added. “The regulators themselves have seen a large increase in headcount with a number of senior lawyers joining at package levels considerably higher than in the past.”

According to a recent Heidrick & Struggles report, sharply rising demand for compliance talent, the absence of a clear career path in the discipline, and greater need for compliance executives with leadership and influencing skills are creating difficult challenges for organizations seeking to identify and retain talent in a world of increasing regulation. 

“Compliance within banks remains a busy area of hiring, especially at the mid senior level, as again, there is a lack of qualified professionals with the knowledge of a sophisticated regulatory framework,” said Mr. Cooper. “It has, however, quieted down since 2014, when regulatory fines and investigations pressurized the banks to increase financial crimes teams by a huge volume.”

Corporate compliance professionals have been in very high demand over the past few years and continue to be so, he said. “Candidates with strong anti-corruption experience and Chinese language skills are in especially high demand. This is due to companies in Asia Pacific having to comply with the U.S. and U.K. regulations as they increasingly play on a global field, and also due to a clampdown on corruption by the current Chinese president.”

Mr. Cooper said there is a generally a skills shortage in the Hong Kong legal and compliance market, even during economic downturns, as there is a lack of internationally-trained, experienced professionals who also have the requisite understanding of Asia and the necessary language skills. “This means that searches still have to be conducted on a global basis for many key hires,” he said.

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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