Banking on success

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Finance man Phillip Y Kim has added a novel to his list of transactions, he tells Matt Fleming

This is Hong Kong. It’s full to the financial brim with bankers – and has been for as long as we can remember. These men and women know their stocks from their brokers, and they all have their fair – or unfair, depending on your view the world – share of cash. Oh, and they’re extremely boring people whose lives continually revolve around the dollar.
Or are they? True, some bankers really are all about the cash – but not all. Like Phillip Y Kim. The Korean-American investment banker of 25 years has just become a published author. His debut, A Hidden Moon, a fiction set in the very real Asian financial world, was launched at KEE Club in Central last month and made for a lively affair, with many people flocking to get their hands on early copies of the book and meet the 50-year-old Hong Kong resident. During his career, he’s worked at Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, as well as at boutique advisory firms, but now that he’s effectively splitting his time between writing and banking, it’s as much about the footnotes as the cash ones.

What made you write your debut, A Hidden Moon?
I have always had urges to be a writer or indulge in other creative pursuits. It dawned on me a couple of years ago that, if I wanted to create some chronicle of the amazing people and situations that I’ve encountered as a banker in Asia over the past 20 years, I’d better do it before age took away that ability. Luckily, the idea of a plot for a novel came to me quite quickly. I thought that a totally fictional story would be better – and more entertaining – than a memoir. The latter felt too personal and would involve exposing the names and identities of too many people.

We all know bankers can be money-grabbing tyrants. Do you explore this in the novel?

Yes, overreaching greed is a key theme. In real life, bankers are like other classes of people – there are good ones, mediocre ones and lousy ones. The large amounts of money involved simply magnify those characteristics. Over the years, I’ve seen laudable acts of heroism in the form of immensely talented bankers working tirelessly, week after week, to raise capital for strategically important businesses. I’ve also met individuals who were so obsessed with money they were caricatures more than people.

What was the transition between banker and novelist like?
Being a novelist involves less fictitious storytelling to entertain an audience willing to shell out money. But, seriously, the transition wasn’t easy – and writing the book would have been impossible if I was working at a major investment bank. As it is, I have been attached to boutique financial advisory firms over the past decade, and so I have had a certain flexibility with regards to my schedule.

The launch was packed. Has your initial success been a surprise?
It was a great honour for me to have so many people who I’ve known over the past 20 years come out in support of what I’ve done. I’ve received a tremendous amount of encouragement and help from my friends – bankers and other types – to write the book, many of whom have harboured their own thoughts about stepping away from corporate jobs to do something creative like this. Then again, maybe they just came out to see if I would publically fall on my face. I really can’t be entirely sure…

What next then? Another novel, we hope.
The first step is to get the book published for a wider audience. I am fortunate to have just secured a deal with a top global publishing house. The process of getting the novel to market will take another seven to eight months. I do have a concrete idea for another novel. It’s an offshoot – not a sequel – of A Hidden Moon, centred around one of the characters who appears in the novel.

A Hidden Moon will be available early next year. For more information on the book and Kim’s musings about Asia’s wealthy check out www.asiaonepercent.blogspot.com.
 

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