Compliance Jobs and Bonuses Resilient

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At least one sector of finance is experiencing continued demand and relative security in total compensation: compliance. In tough times, firms need to retain professionals who are overseeing critical legal and regulatory functions. Not only will some firms be adding in this area, insiders say, but they expect bonuses will reward compliance officers and analysts across a range of specialized areas.

Some Bonuses Could Be Better Than Expected

In a year when many financial professionals are expecting drastically reduced year-end compensation - or no bonuses at all - compliance professionals at all levels will likely be "somewhat insulated," according to one Chicago-based recruiter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He says he and his colleagues at a leading international firm are hearing compliance bonuses across the country might be "somewhat respectable, relatively speaking."

"It depends on the firm, but we're hearing that bonuses at some bulge bracket firms might be better than initially expected," adds Stuart Rosenthal, vice president of compliance recruiting at Legend Global Search, a New York-based firm that specializes in placing compliance and legal professionals. "The bonuses may be down 25 percent or 30 percent from last year. They're not earth shattering, but in some cases they could be fairly good."

Enough Bonus Money to Stay Put - For Now

Unlike other areas, compliance bonuses might be acceptable enough to keep professionals at their current jobs. One mid-level compliance officer at Citi, who declined to be named, had been looking for a new position earlier in the year but is "holding on for now." Having survived several rounds of layoffs, he now thinks his bonus "will be okay."

According to Rosenthal, a typical mid-level compliance officer at a large or medium-sized institution probably makes a salary in the "mid-100s," and can expect a bonus in a good year of about 100 percent of salary. In this market environment, it won't be 100 percent. While compliance professionals at the hardest-hit firms - like Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch, or the Lehman employees who were retained by Barclays - don't expect much, Rosenthal says those at other firms may fare reasonably well.

"It's not a good time for you to have holes in your compliance capabilities," says the Chicago recruiter, adding that firms recognize bonuses will help retain employees who may be getting calls from recruiters looking to place them elsewhere. He notes there is enough activity that experienced compliance professionals may be tempted to move to firms with healthier balance sheets.

Selective Hiring

"There are even open positions in compliance," says Rosenthal, noting there are numerous active searches. He sees a number of top firms hiring where they have "special needs." Some firms with open positions are waiting to fill them or being very discriminating, looking at a wide number of candidates in an effort to fill the roles at compensation levels under stated budgets.

The Chicago recruiter echoes Rosenthal's observations, saying, "Hiring is active compared to other areas of finance." He pointed to multiple searches being conducted by Morgan Stanley, Blackrock, Deutsche Bank, PIMCO and other prominent firms. Job opening exist in range of compliance specializations, including hedge funds, funds of funds, portfolio compliance and bank compliance.

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