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Citi Asia prime arm on hiring spree as hedge fund industry booms

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Citigroup Inc will raise headcount at its Asian prime finance unit by 20 percent to 80 this year as it looks to fight for more hedge fund clients in an industry dominated by the likes of Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley .

The firm was boosting its capital introduction, OTC, client service and futures teams, Hannah Goodwin, head of prime finance in Asia-Pacific for Citigroup, told Reuters, as it prepares to gain from growth in interest and the number of hedge funds setting up in the region.

"We have been getting a number of new sole mandates and we are seeing second and third mandates coming in from existing Asia managers as well," Goodwin said.

"That has been a growth story for us and I think that's going to continue," said Goodwin, who joined Citigroup about six years ago from Deutsche Bank AG .

Prime brokers provide services such as clearing trades and lending money to hedge funds.

The firm hired Martin Visairas as its regional head of sales and capital intro from financial conglomerate Old Mutual late last year. Rob Baigrie from HDH Capital and Carol Teng from Nomos Capital Partners have also joined the team.

Other hires include former JPMorgan executives Ian Nissen as head of futures and prime finance sales, Australia, and Chris Day into the exchange traded derivatives team.

The hiring comes as Citigroup and other relatively smaller players such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Barclays Plc try to exploit a window of opportunity opened by panic over counterparty risk during the financial crisis that forced hedge funds to look for multiple prime brokers.

Before the 2008 crisis, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley had a combined market share of about 60 percent, according to a survey by industry tracker AsiaHedge.

Their share has since halved, with Credit Suisse Group AG , Deutsche Bank and UBS AG gaining market share, making the fiercely competitive Asian prime broking industry more evenly matched than ever, the survey showed.

Goodwin, into her 17th year in the prime broking industry in Asia's hedge fund capital Hong Kong, said the region was contributing significantly to the firm's revenue and prime finance was also a focus area.

She said Citigroup's ability to provide services across custody and fund administration to trading execution and financing and potentially even distribution was a strength.

"Citi has pretty much everything and it's a matter of working out what works best for the client," said Goodwin, who earlier also worked at Morgan Stanley.

Citigroup's prime finance unit oversees $6.69 billion from 90 hedge fund clients, including 51 sole mandates, according to data from AsiaHedge.

(Reporting by Nishant Kumar; Editing by Chris Lewis)

(This story was corrected throughout to change the company name to Citigroup from Citibank)

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