Year of the middle office?

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Crazy as it may sound there are indications that in the sandwich layer of middle office banking jobs, some people are being paid more than they once were.

According to mostly middle and back office recruitment firm Morgan McKinley, basic salaries for risk specialists and product controllers actually rose slightly in December, "due to continued demand for these skill sets within the market."

Hakan Enver, manager of the risk division of Morgan McKinley, elucidates: "Employers were prepared to pay slightly more than the market rate to encourage candidates to move before they received a bonus in the first quarter of 2009 and, in turn, to fulfill headcount requirements for the year."

Other recruiters confirm the comparative strength of risk recruitment. "There are still some interesting vacancies," says Priya Mariannie of recruitment firm PSD Group. "Risk hiring remains very active."

Unfortunately, product controllers don't look like they'll be doing as well out of the Year of the Ox: hiring is already being hit by falling trading volumes and problems getting anything signed off. "New job vacancies are down around 70%," says Grant Torrens, a senior consultant at Hays City.

In the accounting universe, the hot area instead appears to be regulatory reporting, where Torrens says vacancies are up around 50%.

Enthusiasm for middle office professionals isn't necessarily feeding through to bonuses. One recruiter says Merrill's risk bonuses were 'pretty much the same as last year,' and that numbers for operational risk at Morgan Stanley were 10-20%, down from 50-60% in the Years of the Rat or Pig.

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