Canada's Financial Job Market May Be Stabilizing

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Although Canada's unemployment rate stands at 8.4 percent, its highest level in years, and the jobs picture in the Canadian financial industry is not exactly frothy, recruiters say signs of equilibrium are returning.

"Clearly the financial services market globally has still not recovered, but the recruitment market has plateaued somewhat, "says James Mayo, operating director for the financial services practice of Michael Page Canada in Toronto. "There is still some right-sizing going on in the back office, but the front office has more or less stabilized."

Canada's financial sector took a hit to its collective bottom line as a result of the global downturn. Unlike many in the U.S., Canada's major banks have continued to report profits this year. To be sure, they're reduced profits, as all banks have had to put more money aside to cover the growing number of loans likely to sour and the demand for credit has waned. Still, the International Monetary Fund recently pronounced Canada's financial sector to be the strongest in the world.

Mayo says firms are looking to fill jobs focused on projects that will streamline their operations, "from the trading systems to financial accounting systems. We're seeing a lot of interest in the control functions such as financial control, credit risk, market risk and compliance monitoring,"

For job seekers, those who are employed have an advantage over people who are currently jobless, both in terms of finding a position and getting a good pay offer.

"Pay is changing on a weekly basis," Mayo notes. "Gone are the days of guarantees for mid-level positions, at least in the short term There's a lot of talent in the market, but the way the market has changed, and way the market has fared, there may not be as many opportunities, so firms can be more selective."

Mayo says mid-tier firms are generally looking to poach talent, whereas the bigger players favor hiring from within, though there are exceptions. The Royal Bank of Canada just hired a team of top producers from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, according to news reports this week.

Another aspect of the current market is that it is taking, on average, six to eight weeks for jobs to get posted and filled. That's because companies are requiring management signoffs at the beginning of the process and after a candidate has been identified.

There are some signs of a thaw in the job market, however. Mayo sees a steady supply of job openings in Halifax and Calgary, and a pickup in Montreal. Activity among the surviving hedge funds and private equity firms is also increasing. Another positive sign: Mayo is looking to add to his own staff.

"We are actively recruiting for consultants. We feel we are bouncing along the bottom of the market," he says. "If the banks have another quarter of profitability, then we expect them increase hiring."

He adds: "There are positive notes, but I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that we are out of it. I expect it to be a difficult market for several quarters yet."