When you're wondering whether to invest £200k+ in a new member of staff, it helps to have visibility on the future. For the moment, however, the coming months are shrouded in mist and this is having a serious impact on banks' willingness to commit to new recruits.
"This is traditionally the time of year when you see budgeting being done and business plans being formed for the coming year," says one senior fixed income headhunter in London, speakin on condition of anonymity. "But this year we're seeing hardly any plans for net new hiring at all. There are one or two hires here and there, and that's all."
London's finance recruiters blame Brexit (currently slated for 31 January), the General Election (12 December) and banks' own cost-cutting and restructuring plans for their woes. The three have combined to create unprecedented uncertainty that is unlikely to lift in the short term.
"It seems the first quarter is also going to be very slow [for hiring] thanks to Brexit and the election," says one equities headhunter. "Hiring has increasingly moved in the second quarter anyway as bonuses are now paid later than before, but realistically no bank is going to make a plan until after the election and then we're into Christmas anyway."
However, all the recruiters we spoke to agreed on one thing: if the Conservative party achieve a majority government under Boris Johnson, London banking recruitment could receive a shot in the arm in early 2020.
"If there is a clear Tory landslide and then Johnson can push through Brexit at the end of January then banks can start planning for the future and acting on their expectations," said the equities headhunter. "Once everyone knows where they stand, it could very quickly go from being a terrible market to a brilliant one as the pendulum swings from one extreme to another.
"Very little hiring happened in 2019, and if there's more certainty about the future banks may try to compensate for that next year," he adds. "And from a candidate perspective, things can happen very quickly once people have been paid and decide they want to move."
Tony Marshall, director of technology search at recruiters Rees Draper Wright, says technology hiring in banks is comparatively immune to the uncertainty but would still benefit from a Conservative government from a business-as-usual perspective. There's still a, "big focus on digital transformation," says Marshal, plus "compliance and cyber/information security."
And what happens if a Labour government wins the election? "Nobody I have spoken to even thinks Corbyn is a possibility," says Marshall. Another recruiter echoes the same thing: "No one is even thinking about Corbyn," he says, "but I guess it would be pretty disastrous if it happens."
For the moment, the Conservatives have a majority in the polls, but polls have proven unreliable in the recent past and a lot can change in a month. If finding a new job is your priority next year, you probably need to hope the pollsters are right this time and that Boris can pull it off.
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