By Nishant Kumar
HONG KONG (Reuters) - At least four mid-level executives are leaving Goldman Sachs Group's Asia prime brokerage unit to join rival banks, people familiar with the matter said, just as the regional hedge fund industry is starting to pick up.
Prime brokers cater exclusively to hedge funds, clearing trades and lending money. The Goldman unit was biggest firm serving Asia's $159 billion (94 billion pounds) hedge funds industry last year, according to tracker AsiaHedge.
The sources said that Jason Berry, who had moved to Goldman in Hong Kong in 2007 and was part of the hedge fund consulting group, is moving to London to join Bank of America Corp .
Rob Freeman, who had also been with Goldman in Hong Kong since 2007, is also moving to Credit Suisse as a director in the prime services coverage team in Singapore, the people familiar with the matter said. He will start in July.
Mark Wittet, who joined in 2011, is heading to Deutsche Bank's prime brokerage in Hong Kong and will be joined by his colleague Michael Ho, the people added.
Goldman Sachs declined to comment on the moves, which analysts said were the first major staff changes after this year's bonus payouts.
Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Bank of America Corp declined to comment. The sources also declined to be identified as the information is confidential.
Asia's hedge fund industry is starting to recover after six years of sluggish growth, helped partly by a stock market rally in Japan and bets on Chinese sectors such as technology and gaming.
Regional hedge funds returned nearly 16 percent last year, their best annual performance since 2009, according to data from Eurekahedge. The industry also added $20 billion in assets in 2013, its first growth in three years, but the assets under management is $33 billion below its 2007 peak, according to AsiaHedge.
(Additional reporting by Simon Jessop in LONDON; Editing by Denny Thomas and Miral Fahmy)