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Temporary workers in UK, U.S. and EU banks in demand

Whether you're an accountant or a settlements clerk, the market for temporary staff in investment banks is hotting up on both sides of the Atlantic.

Temping in UK financial services firms

The UK, and the City of London in particular, is Europe's largest market for 'temps' (staff on short term contracts lasting anything from a week to several months). But be warned - temping jobs in banks are not glamorous: most are in the back or middle office. Temps work as everything from secretaries to settlements clerks and product controllers. As a temp, you won't get to fraternize with clients or clinch big deals. You will, however, be paid handsomely for your efforts.

Agencies in London report surging demand for banking temps: Joslin Rowe, a London agency dealing with finance roles, said temporary positions are up 30% this year compared to last; Robert Walters, a rival agency, reports an even larger rise: 70%.

Booming demand means higher pay. Secretaries on the trading floor can now earn 14 an hour, compared to 12 an hour six months ago, says Oliver Harris, head of UK contract assignments at Robert Walters. Equity settlements clerks, who were earning 16 an hour at the start of the year, are re-negotiating contracts for 20 an hour.

The biggest pay rises have come in the hottest sectors. Specialists in ISDA (International Swaps and Derivatives Association) documentation, who deal with the paperwork associated with derivatives trades, are in short supply and can earn more than 22 an hour, up from 17 six months ago. Pay for newly qualified accountants who work as product controllers helping traders calculate risk and profit and loss has risen from 26 an hour to more than 35 an hour during the same period.

Temporary staff don't get end of year bonuses and are free to move to rival banks offering higher hourly rates. To stop staff being poached, agencies say banks in London have begun using end- of-contract bonuses instead: 'Banks are offering people 30 an hour upfront, and 2 an hour which is withheld until the contract's over,' says Nabila Sadiq, managing director of Joslin Rowe.

'It's a great time be temping', says Harris at Robert Walters, 'managers are desperate for staff.'

Compliance temps on Wall Street

The picture is rosy for many contract staff on Wall Street. Kurt Kraeger, head of contract recruitment at Robert Walters in New York, says demand for temps is up on last year. The downside is that most banks are after people with the same kind of profile.

'The Sarbanes Oxley requirements are driving demand for contractors to work in publicly quoted banks', says Kraeger. 'There is a shortage of qualified accountants who understand the financial reporting and disclosure process.'

Accountants with five to 15 years experience can earn $75-$150 an hour in Sarbanes-Oxley related contract positions in banks, says Kraeger. This is 20% higher than last year.

Prospects for non-accountancy contract staff in New York are less promising. Thanks to the cost of health insurance, which isn't included in contract rates, most US employees prefer to work full time. As a result, top quality people are rarely found temping, and employers may look suspiciously at anyone with a period of contract work on their resume: 'Banks prefer people with full time experience,' Kraeger says.

France on the cheap

If you plan to temp, or work as an 'interim,' in Paris, be prepared to earn less money than in London or New York. Hourly rates for banking temporary staff in the French capital rarely exceed €30 ($25) an hour.

Junior accountants working in banking positions in the French market can expect little more than €22 an hour. Some of the best paid staff in Paris are working in ISDA documentation roles earning €30 an hour, 10% below their counterparts in London.

Antoine Morgaut, head of Walters Interim in Paris, said the lower hourly rate is offset by free healthcare and the low cost of living in Paris compared to London and New York.

Temps in France can also comfort themselves with the thought that they are unlikely to find themselves unexpectedly out of a job. UK and US temps may find their contracts terminated at a moment's notice. But employers of French 'interims' are obliged to stick with their temporary hires until the contract comes to an end.

In France, as in the UK, temporary roles in France are usually occupied by staff at the start of their careers. 'It is mostly people with three years' experience,' says Morgaut.

French banks are looking for temporary junior documentation staff with fluency in French and English, says Morgaut. These jobs used to be done by French nationals with rudimentary English, but there is an increasing need for people who can decipher the complex documents associated with international swaps.

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