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Banks are open and interviewing in Tokyo but recruitment will take weeks to recover

Most banks in Tokyo are open this week and some are even carrying out job interviews, despite the devastation in coastal Japan and the nightmare surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The Wall Street Journal reports that it’s business as usual for 16 major foreign banks in the city. Bloomberg says JP Morgan and Credit Suisse are allowing employees to work from home and that Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch do not plan to relocate their Tokyo workforces.

The four Australian banks with staff in Japan – ANZ, Macquarie, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank of Australia – are also keeping their employees in place.

By contrast, German firms Munich Re, WestLB and Commerzbank have offered to evacuate their staff in Tokyo. And the French government is advising its citizens to leave.

Interviews amid the crisis

Have banks put all their hiring on hold? “It depends on the company,” says Mika Nomura, business director, Hays Banking. “Two of my Japanese investment banking clients are both proceeding with interviews but an American investment bank wants to postpone them until next week.”

Although some candidates can’t attend interviews because of transport problems and power cuts, most are turning up on time, she adds.

Not too many candidates, however, are meeting recruitment agents. Warwick Pearmund, a financial sector consultant at Slate, says business is “pretty much non existent” this week. “We can obviously work remotely but I have no face-to-face meetings planned.”

Headhunters agree that interview processes won’t get fully back on track until the Fukushima nuclear plant explosion is bought under control. “If the radiation is localised around the currently affected area then one would expect normality to return to Tokyo reasonably quickly,” says Pearmund.

Nomura adds: “I assume that business will be back to normal within two to three weeks when the nuclear accident has settled down. Almost all financial firms will start hiring staff again soon because overall they lack experienced and skilled talent. They can’t stop hiring due to the disaster.”

Rebuilding recruitment

Pearmund is also optimistic about the prospects for the employment market. “The fundamentals have not changed and while there will be a short-term fall off in hiring, it’s not unreasonable to assume that by H2 things will be resumed. Horrible as the devastation further north is, the area is relatively insignificant to Japan’s overall economy.”

Most Tokyo banking roles have a more domestic focus than those in centres such as Singapore, Hong Kong and London, so recruitment rates depend to a greater extent on the performance of the local economy, says a former Tokyo-based investment banker, who asked not to be named.

“Disasters like the Kobe earthquake have had a net positive impact on the economy. Japan has a strong capacity to rally in the face of adversity, and the rebuild might kick things off again. The last 20 years or so of limited shocks haven’t done much good, so a change in the status quo is likely to have an upside.”

Expat exodus?

Banks don’t employ as many expats in Tokyo as they do in Singapore or Hong Kong, so any outflow of foreigners wouldn’t be as large as had a disaster occurred in these centres, adds the banker.

But expat inflow will be affected, says Pearmund, “I can’t imagine people will be comfortable bringing their families here if they have no prior knowledge of the country. Trying to reassure new expats may prove difficult. The nuclear issue is a whole other dimension.”

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