The allure of a career in wealth management

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Wealth management may not be roaring ahead like it used to be, but nor is it in total collapse, either. When Morgan Stanley reported its 3Q results a few weeks ago, it said revenues from its global wealth management group were down a relatively modest 8%, compared to 40% for its advisory business and 19% for its underwriting operations.

Equally appealingly, wealth managers and private bankers haven't been axed in huge numbers. UBS, for example, had 1,122 more staff in its global wealth management arm in Q208 than in the same quarter of 2007 (although staff numbers fell by 750 between Q108 and Q2). And Credit Suisse added 300 new private banking staff in the first two quarters of this year.

Much of the new headcount is being added in Asia and the Middle East, but headhunters say there's still appetite for adding staff in London. "Barclays Wealth and Coutts are still looking to build. Most private banks want to grow, just not as aggressively as they were," says one.

Private banking pay in the UK should also fare well under the FSA's putative scheme for moderating payouts according to the riskiness of the endeavour - wealth conservation is the antithesis of prop trading.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, some investment bankers appear to have settled on wealth management as a next career step. Private banking recruiters in Asia say they're already being deluged with investment banking CVs from Wall Street.

Will private banking and wealth management prove a long-term haven from the storm? Dirk Hoffman Becking, an analyst at Bernstein research, rains on the parade. Rich people are in decline and Becking points out that most private banks have less flexible cost structures than investment banks. Falling assets under management may therefore translate quickly into rising redundancies.