We spoke (again) to Robert Walters, chief executive of the global recruitment firm of the same name. Last time we spoke to Robert it was January 2012. Has anything changed?
Q: Financial services hiring is still slow. Do you think this is cyclical or structural?
Robert: It’s impossible to tell. When banking does come back, it will come back in a different shape, but that’s not to say there won’t be a resurgence in hiring over the next few years. Back in 2000, after the internet bubble burst, everyone was saying that hiring would never come back again and then between 2000 and 2007 the number of people working in banks doubled.
Past experience dictates that hiring will recover. As to when that will happen, it’s hard to say. I expect it will take a year, at least.
Q: In a recent interview, you mentioned that the US market offered the best potential for the future. Why was this?
Robert: I wasn’t referring to financial services hiring specifically, I was just offering my personal opinion about the US economy. I’m not a qualified economist, so I’m not the best person to comment, but my opinion is that the US remains the powerhouse of the global economy and that it will bounce back sooner than elsewhere.
Q: Is there any improvement in financial services hiring in the US?
Robert: Unfortunately, no. It’s flat. We’re not really seeing an increase in banking hiring anywhere in the world. The good news is that it’s not really getting any worse.
Q: Really – even after last week’s redundancies at UBS?
Robert: You need to remember that with any organization there is natural attrition of 15% a year and that this means there is always hiring going on to replace key roles. Hiring never stops and eventually – in time – the jobs do bounce back.
Q: Do all the people out of work mean that financial services recruiters are being disintermediated? – Are people applying to banks directly?
Robert: It’s a bit of a false opinion to think that it’s a good time to recruit when people are being made redundant. Banks tend to want to hire people who are working and good people tend to keep their heads down and to be looked after by the organization. Good people need to be winkled out and this is where recruiters can still perform a useful function.
There’s not really much disintermediation at all – there’s always been direct recruitment and people who will apply directly to particular organizations. Nothing’s changed.
Q: Away from financial services, are there any industries where hiring will be vibrant in the next few years?
Robert: Alternative energy? Technology also seems to be very active. We’ve just opened an office in San Francisco and that’s doing extremely well. There seems a lot of confidence in the technology industry. Sales roles are also going strongly.
Q: What’s happening in the Asian market? How’s financial services hiring progressing there this year?
Robert: China is still growing – but maybe by less. We’re seeing no real change in recruitment activity there. Our business in Malaysia is doing extremely well. Singapore has slowed, however. I think that’s partly because Singapore was a hub for a lot of banks and it’s not as cheap a hub as Jakarta or Vietnam. In Singapore there’s also been an influx of recruitment competitors coming late into what they see as a growth market.
Q: What about Hong Kong?
Funnily enough, Hong Kong – which is traditionally the most volatile market in the region – is actually doing quite well.
It’s very difficult to generalize with Asia. For example, Japan has been in recession for decades but it’s one of our most successful offices. Japanese banks want multilingual candidates from overseas and we’re able to provide them.
Q: Where in the world do you think financial services hiring will happen next year?
My money would be on America.
Q: Which financial services business areas will hire the most actively next year?
I’d say probably the ones that have been hit the hardest. This year, regulatory and compliance hiring has been strong, but a lot of that is now complete. Next year I suspect hiring will recover for some of the traditional front office investment banking roles.