HONG KONG (Reuters) - When some bankers arrived late for work at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s (BAC.N) Asia headquarters in Hong Kong earlier this year, they found a Post-It note on their computer screens.
The terse message: “Good afternoon” needed little further explanation.
The notes were from Matthew Koder, former king of equity capital markets at Swiss banking giant UBS AG UBSN.VX, and now tasked with shaking things up at BofA and boosting its banking business across Asia.
“Like I said at my first Monday morning meeting, I’m prepared to do anything and everything that I’ll ask anyone in the team to do,” said Koder, BofA’s head of Asia Pacific global corporate and investment banking. “All I ask is for people to do as much as I do, no more than that.”
Koder’s move to BofA in June was a big and expensive poach by the U.S. bank, and signaled BofA’s bold ambitions to boost its Asia business at a time when some expected it to scale back. While Merrill Lynch expanded heavily in the region in the past decade, BofA’s investment banking presence was relatively small.
Since his arrival, Koder has pushed change and given BofA-Merrill Lynch bankers a dose of the intensity he’s known for.
“People in this industry should feel very lucky to be in this industry, particularly now when you look at structural unemployment around the world,” he told Reuters, in his first interview since joining BofA. “We should just feel fortunate.”
Key changes include the way the bank handles its clients.
While he acknowledges there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, Koder is moving to streamline the operation, where the corporate and investment banks operate under the same umbrella. A single person, for example, now leads the team managing the bank’s top-10 India clients.
“We need to step it up on the innovation front,” he said, noting the bank has to offer clients “real, tangible advice,” whether that’s on capital structure, strategic M&A, or access to financing. “Not just your typical, run of the mill solutions.”
Koder speaks of redefining BofA, and is bringing to the job a new level of intensity and a strong work ethic.
“You see people in capital markets showing up two hours earlier than they used to,” said a banker who worked under Koder, and recently left. “You get emails and phone calls from him at any hour.”
Since June, BofA has signed some big deals, with Koder said to be linking up closely with ex-UBS colleague James Fleming, who joined BofA shortly after Koder as co-head of the Asia equity capital markets team.
“The way the culture is organised and dictated ... it’s absolutely Matthew Koder running the franchise with his lieutenant Fleming,” said a banker who works there, but who asked not to be named.
Koder had overseen a UBS franchise that was Asia Pacific’s No.1 in equity capital markets underwriting for six years in a row, according to Thomson Reuters data.
He played a big role in building the bank’s China business and is credited in part with creating the cornerstone process for Hong Kong IPOs, where tycoons and local funds get first crack at a deal rather than the large Western mutual funds.
“He’s had a stellar career. He’s been very aggressive in terms of marketing deals and leading the team,” said Philippe Espinasse, a former banker with UBS in Hong Kong, who worked with Koder on some IPOs when Koder was at Goldman Sachs.
“He’s quite hands on. He demands a lot from his team, but at the same time knows a lot about what makes a deal work.”
Koder, a fast-talking Australian who started out at Goldman in the mid-1990s, made a point of getting face-to-face with BofA clients quickly, meeting more than 200 of the largest Asian clients in his first four months in the job.
A recent convert to keeping fit, Koder — who has a commerce degree from the University of New South Wales, with first class honors in finance — says he follows a simple philosophy borrowed from Tom Hopkins’ “The Official Guide to Success,” a book he first read at high school.
“There are three steps to being successful: identify what is the most productive thing you can possibly be doing right now. That’s Step One. Step Two, do it. Step Three, go back to Step One. Constantly.”
Koder’s arrival at BofA has coincided with the global impact of the euro zone debt crisis prompting a slide in equity capital market activity in Asia, and a 50 percent drop in BofA shares.
His vision now is trained as much on debt financing as it is on equity capital markets, as Koder sees big growth opportunities for the fixed income business. People close to Koder also say he wants to capture a bigger share of specific parts of equity capital deals, such as block trades — a niche that UBS had focused on under him.
In Asian debt capital market issuance, BofA has this year bounced back to third place, from 7th last year, in the G3 currency — (U.S. dollar, euro and yen — rankings, while in equity capital market underwriting, it has worked on $6.9 billion worth of deals, ranking fifth in Asia Pacific, up from 10th in the same period last year, Thomson Reuters data shows.
BofA last month won the mandate as sole bookrunner for Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings TEM.UL and its $512 million bond exchangeable into Standard Chartered (STAN.L) shares.
Koder is a rare book collector, with an early edition of Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” a prized possession. He’s also a fitness fanatic, who took up boxing after a bad bout of food poisoning a couple of years ago.
“It knocked me out for almost a week, and I thought I should look after my body a bit more because I realized how fragile I was,” said Koder, who has children from a previous marriage.
He recently re-married, tying the knot with one of the daughters of Canning Fok, managing director of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd 0013.HK and right-hand man of Hong Kong’s wealthiest person, Li Ka-shing.
The fragility Koder refers to was probably not helped by flying constantly between London — where he was based as UBS’ head of global capital markets — Hong Kong and other financial centres. He flew so often he would joke that his body never really knew what time it was, said a former colleague.
It may be some time before Koder’s efforts are translated into league rankings and mega-dollars for BofA, but his demands for focus and hard work are recognized inside and outside the bank.
“He gets a lot of stuff done and the place is better because of him,” said a recruiter in charge of placing employees at banks, including BofA. “He’s really kicking the crap out of some people there.”
Editing by Michael Flaherty and Ian Geoghegan