If you're looking for a knight in hiring armour to rescue you from the morass of unemployment, Cantor Fitzgerald is your best bet. The brokerage firm is in the process of changing into a full service investment bank and has repeatedly affirmed its intention to hire, even in the face of a recent ratings downgrade due to skepticism about its growth plans.
But is working at Cantor really all that? Bloomberg reports today that the firm is struggling to retain staff: 41% of the traders and bankers Cantor has hired since 2009 have left. Is there something pernicious at play which drives new Cantor hires away - even in a difficult hiring market? Maybe. Bloomberg says Cantor is a difficult employer: it's known for "hustle," people there are worked hard, and Cantor has made little headway in areas like M&A and capital markets.
Cantor was unable to comment for this article. However, one headhunter with close knowledge of the firm suggested Bloomberg's analysis dating back to 2009 paints the firm in an unnecessarily harsh light. "2009 was just after Lehman went under and there were a lot of people around who just needed to find a seat. It was always going to be likely that they'd jump at the first opportunity," he says.
Since 2009, Cantor's business model has changed substantially. The firm only really started transforming from its roots as a bond house into a full service investment bank with an equities and M&A business in 2011, says the headhunter. As the culture at Cantor has evolved, he suggests the firm has dumped people who didn't fit in: "There were a number of people who didn't fit the new mould or were unhappy with the change of direction," he alleges.
In London, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) register reveals numerous departures from Cantor in 2012, with ex-Cantor staff leaving to work everywhere from Saxo Capital Markets to Mirabaud Securities. In the US people like David Hodges, whom Cantor hired from JPMorgan in 2009, have since moved on. Hodges now works for Wells Fargo.
Former investment bankers who try slotting themselves into the more aggressive brokerage culture at Cantor may struggle to cope. Simon Maughan, head of the sector strategy group at Olivetree Securities, says ex-investment bankers who have become used to high salaries and discretionary bonuses will probably struggle at a brokerage like Cantor. "If you move from salary plus bonus to eat-what-you-kill, it will be difficult to adjust," says Maughan. "Equally, if your salary is much lower than it was at an investment bank, you will only ever see the new job as a stop-gap while you look for another one."
One of Cantor's former employees, who left last year, says Cantor paid on him on a 'draw system:' "sales traders are forwarded their pay from their future commission." Separately, he says that Cantor in London is a fine place to work and that James Rowsell, chief executive of Cantor in Europe, is "very good" and making a "big difference."
"Rowsell is hiring sales guys and analysts. He's getting a product together in London. They have some pockets of real excellence and some very bright guys," he informs us.