"Banks are waiting to hire cheap and desperate people"

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The fourth quarter is never a good time to look for a new job in financial services. With bonuses approaching, banks typically call a hiatus on hiring and guard bonus pools to be distributed among existing staff; no one wants an interloper sapping bonuses after a mediocre year. At this point in 2019, hiring is therefore dying a death - but imminent bonuses are not the only cause.

"The shutters are down on recruitment," says the EMEA head of one financial services search firm. "It's firing rather than hiring until the end of the year. Everyone is taking capacity out."

The list of banks that have either made redundancies already or that are queuing up to make redundancies is long and getting longer. From Deutche Bank in July, to Citi in August/September, to HSBC, UBS and Macquarie, the market is filling-up with unwanted staff, particularly in cash equities. And with the expectation of more cuts to come, no bank feels compelled to pluck people from the street immediately. 

"It's very difficult to convince clients to invest in people right now," says the headhunter. "They still think that if they wait they will get people who are cheaper and desperate, or that new and better people will be let go."

Brexit's delay until 31 January isn't helping matters in London, although another headhunter expressed a hope that it might 'force the hand' of banks with gaps to fill. "It's just all very flat at the moment," he says.

This isn't to say there's no hiring happening at all. Jefferies is stocking up on equity researchers and recently hired Simon Toennessen, Berenberg's global head of capital goods research. Morgan Stanley just hired Cedar Ekblom from Bank of America for building and construction research. Berenberg has been spotted recruiting in equities too, and Mizuho is busy hiring in fixed income. 

Mostly, though, banks are lurking on the sidelines and waiting for what is already a buyer's market to become more flooded with people trying to sell their skills. "It's a tough time to be out of the market now, but you might still get into a tier two or a tier three bank," says the senior search executive. 

This in itself may be problematic. In the current environment, banks can suddenly pull out of entire business areas without warning, particularly in the second and third tier. "Deutsche was hiring right up to the AGM when it decided to close its equities business," says one headhunter. Macquarie was hiring until the bitter end too. Choices made in desperation now might lead to more pain in future.

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Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

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