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Recruitment roundtable part I: banking blues

eFinancialCareers recently ran a roundtable in Sydney, which was attended by several senior HR professionals from local and foreign banks. In the first of a two-part article, we give you the delegates’ take on how banks are reacting to the recent radical changes in Australia’s employment market.

Unemployment and redeployment

To begin on a (fairly) upbeat note, it seems that employers no longer look down on out-of-work bankers. The roundtable attendees, who asked not to be named, agreed that there are plenty of quality professionals amongst the current crop of unemployed job seekers. “Many of them have been made redundant through no fault of their own,” sympathised one delegate.

Unfortunately this change in attitude isn’t leading to banks opportunistically taking top talent off the market. The pressure to cut costs is still strong and internal redeployment is now preferred when vacancies crop up. As one panelist remarked: “All jobs must be advertised internally – there is great pressure not to go external.”

HR teams are experiencing high levels of interest from staff in their overseas offices who want to move to Australia. But banks prefer local redeployment whenever possible. “Australia is wrongly still seen as a safe haven. And foreign applicants think they don’t need local experience, when actually they usually do.”

Candidates come calling by phone (and by foot)

The employment market might be in meltdown, but that isn’t stopping unemployed bankers from trying their luck. HR teams are being deluged by floods of speculative CVs. And when emails and phone calls fail to produce the desired response, people are coming in off the street. “Candidates are now even dropping into the office to see us, even when there is no job advertised. We’ve had to brief our reception staff on the best way to deal with these enquiries.”

External recruitment agencies are getting desperate too, as one roundtable attendee bemoaned: “I’ve been inundated with calls from recruiters. It’s almost a full-time job dealing with them. Many are sending float CVs straight to line managers, so we also have to educate the line to send everything directly to us in HR.”

What else does HR do all day?

There might not be much hiring happening, but HR teams (many of which have been trimmed down recently) are also keeping busy with panel reviews, pipelines, redeployment and reporting. “But we’ve not seen a massive increase in UK or US applications – we expected there to be more,” said one delegate.

While recruitment agency fees for junior to mid-range jobs are falling, high-level headhunting remains costly. “We’re not seeing much adjustment in search firm rates, which is frustrating. There is pressure to direct hire and there are some restrictions on using search firms. But we do still need to use them in Australia and across Asia-Pacific. Internal HR teams here generally lack the capacity to carry out many effective searches for themselves.”

A glimmer of hiring hope

There is at least still some opportunistic hiring happening in the private banking sector. Wealth managers who can move their clients’ assets to a new bank (and then generate revenue) are in demand. “It’s all about revenue. There’s pressure to up revenue and reduce costs.”

The second part of our report on the roundtable will appear on Friday and will examine the challenges facing candidates in the finance sector.

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