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Japan: 2008 year in review

Good(ish) year

Governance-centric roles

The middle office was the place to keep safe in ’08. Throughout the year there was a relatively steady demand for bi-lingual financial controllers and internal auditors with capital markets product knowledge, particularly those with the Japanese CPA qualification, says David Swan, director financial services, Robert Walters. “Regulatory orientated positions continued to be a focus for many firms in 2008. Making the necessary adjustments to a continually evolving regulatory environment made firms very conscious of their need to stay compliant,” adds Gregory Toole, a director at Hudson.


Banking sector consolidation and downsizing has lead to an increase in contractors hired for restructuring or integration projects, according to Jivago Matsuoka, account executive at Robert Half. Project-based professionals are an attractive proposition for banks because they do not incur the overheads of permanent staff or the hefty fees of management consultants. “They fit easily into organisations, take on senior assignments at very short notice and deliver from day one, which is the key to success in the financial services market where the one constant is change,” adds Matsuoka.

Retail sales (just)

For much of 2008 financial institutions continued to focus energy on improving their retail sales force, particularly in the insurance, investment management and private banking sectors, says Toole. Even as assets-under-management declined, most firms were “very conscious of maintaining sufficient levels of competent front line sales and client service professionals,” he adds.


“The insurance sector in Japan fared a little better than the banks and we saw regular requests to fill specific roles, such as underwriters and product development actuaries,” says Swan.

Taking a career break

The going got too tough for some this year. An increasing number of financial services professionals in Japan either took a career break or, in the case of many expats, returned to their home countries, according to James Incles, managing director of Morgan McKinley’s Tokyo office. Nao Batangan, a global markets recruiter at Michael Page Japan, says more bankers decided to spend the next two years doing an MBA, figuring the market may improve after that.

Bad year

Real estate

Not a good year for bankers specialising in property, with downsizing and bankruptcy the main themes amongst companies in the real estate market. “In the front office acquisition and execution areas in particular, demand for staff was very low to non-existent and we saw a number of strong candidates struggle to obtain suitable positions,” says Swan.

Keeping IT jobs in Japan

With IT jobs being trimmed, Tokyo’s banking-sector techies found themselves searching elsewhere in Asia for work. “In Singapore, we have seen more CVs from Tokyo since January, either people who have been laid off, or those feeling in a precarious position,” says Matt Dunham, managing director at recruiters Confero. “The majority of IT professionals at foreign-owned banks in Japan are foreigners, who are generally quite mobile, even in better times. But this year even the established expats – those who have settled in Japan and have families here – have been compelled to look elsewhere for jobs,” says Bruce Lepore, senior consultant, financial services technology, at Talent2.


With little activity in the capital markets and a reduction in M&A deals in Japan, most banks did little, if any, hiring in this area in 2008, according to Swan. As the year progressed, recruitment freezes at the investment banks turned into large scale redundancies.

Fixed income

Fixed income headcounts went into reverse in Tokyo as banks lost their appetite for bond traders. “Since the current crisis was largely caused by a lack of risk and credit control in fixed-income products, in my opinion fixed-income hiring levels across the board in Tokyo have suffered more than equities,” says Abhi Kumar, an associate at People Services International.

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