If there's anywhere that's seen a reversal in fortunes over the past few months, it's surely Russia. As recently as last month, banks were busily adding staff. But with Russian IPOs at 6% of last year's level, equity indices down 70%, a possible run on the banking system, and the country's MICEX exchange frequently closed in recent weeks, Russia's status as a hiring oasis is no more.
Last week, Renaissance Capital said it was cutting 100 people from its investment banking and asset management divisions, a major strategy reversal for a bank that had boosted staff by two thirds in the 12 months previously.
Eric Kraus, a hedge fund manager at Russia's Nitisky Fund, now describes Russia's brokerage firms as "totally overstaffed" (in September, he remained adamant that banks in Russia were in growth mode). He also says layoffs are imminent: "The brokers are on thin ice... and suddenly no one is hiring, at least not that I know of."
Last month, Russian brokerage firm KIT was hastily sold to Gazprom after defaulting on some of its debt. However, bankers and headhunters say the international firms which have been busily building up their Russian presence have yet to cut back. "There's zero hiring activity and some firms are thinking about decreasing their headcount, but it hasn't happened yet," says an economist at one European bank in Moscow.
Merrill Lynch made four appointments to its Moscow office as recently as September, and Deutsche is still said to be trying to fill gaps left by defections to Russian rivals. But Olga Selivanova, a headhunter with Morgan Hunt in Moscow, says hiring plans at most banks have now been put on hold: "Decisions are being put off until next year."
Elvira Muratova at search firm Napier Scott, says recruitment hasn't dried up entirely. Although the combined wealth of Russia's oligarchs was said to have fallen 62% at the start of last week, Muratova says private banks are still hiring in Russia. So too, apparently, are law firms, private equity funds and debt restructuring houses.
Kraus says Russia can't be written off, but predicts a different landscape to come: "The game will change once the markets stabilise. There will be a redistribution of assets - distressed debt specialists, workout guys - but it will probably be a Russo-Russian game."