The first quarter is supposed to be a time when investment banks ramp up their recruitment to replace front-office staff who leave after collecting bonuses.
But headhunters in Hong Kong are already warning that the number of people moves between banks early next year will be less than usual. And this spells bad news for bankers who haven’t found work after being laid off from the likes of Barclays and Goldman during 2016.
“Anyone with a job will think hard before resigning in Q1, which means little replacement-driven hiring,” says Damian Babis, managing director of headhunters Capital People in Hong Kong. “It’s not a good situation”.
“There are nerves in the market that there may be additional job cuts,” says Adam Jeffes, associate director of financial services at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Hong Kong. “I expect some post-bonus ‘churn’, but overall sentiment is that it’s better the devil you know – bankers are quite cautious about entertaining other opportunities.”
John Mullally, financial services director at recruiters Robert Walters, says many of the bankers he speaks to lack the “confidence” to move jobs after they get their Q1 bonuses.
Not only have global banks cut jobs in Asia, they’ve also been moving down regional revenue tables at the expense of Chinese competitors.
“In this market an increasing number of bankers are unsure whether they can actually generate enough revenue at the next firm – and they’re afraid of being last in, first out,” says Mullally. “The candidate confidence that helps drive Q1 people movement doesn’t look like it will be there to the usual extent.”
“Job security is now top of bankers’ minds,” he adds. “If you move it’s risky, from a revenue standpoint and also because you need to align yourself politically at the new firm. Bankers are saying that staying put might be a better option, even if it’s a great new opportunity with better pay.”
As a consequence there will be less of the normal ‘musical chairs’ of Hong Kong investment bankers changing employers to replace each other.
“And even when people do move, banks are telling me that these days they don’t look to replace them automatically. They instead see if the work can be shared among others in the team,” says Mullally.
It’s not only so-called ‘replacement hiring’ that looks set to be below par next quarter.
“Global banks’ businesses aren’t growing in Asia, so there will be very little growth-driven hiring either,” says Babis from Capital People.
All this does not bode well for bankers who’ve lost their jobs this year and were hoping for a pickup in recruiting in Q1.
“If hiring doesn't pick up, unemployed bankers looking for roles at top-tier firms may have a long gap on their CV,” says Jeffes from Morgan McKinley. “It’s easy to explain a few months out of work, but gets tricky if it’s more than six.”
Jeffes says out-of-work bankers may need to be more “flexible” with their job searching in the first quarter.
Roles at Western investment banks may be limited, but there should be openings at Chinese banks and in corporate development.
Image credit: Dmytro_Skorobogatov, Getty