Quant Hiring Gains Steam

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Hiring of trading-desk quants and engineers is up and is expected to rally further with the start of the new year. While recruiters differ about the scale of the pickup and in their confidence it will continue, several tell eFinancialCareers News that demand for financial technology pros is gaining steam within both sell-side buy-side shops.

"The amount of hiring that's going to take place is going to be fairly large, and the amount of people available is also going to be fairly large," remarks Scott Gerson, president of Focus Capital Markets.

That rare combination embodies a dream scenario for recruiting firms that survived the downturn. It's the nature of business cycles that when job-seekers are plentiful, few unfilled jobs exist (and still fewer assigned to external recruiters). Conversely, job openings tend to be most plentiful when there is little unemployment and companies readily pay up to hold onto good performers.

Almost Too Busy

Gerson says his exclusive assignments for Wall Street technology and quant research openings spiked from five jobs or fewer a few months ago, to more than 50 by mid-October. "When I have more people and more jobs than I know what to do with, then I know something's going on," he says.

"We're almost too busy," echoes another recruiter, who asks not to be named.

Hiring has picked up considerably since mid-year, says Joshua Levkov, managing director at Grady Levkov & Co., another trading technology recruiter. He says funds are hiring both quant analysts, who craft trading strategies and models based on advanced mathematicals concepts, and engineers, who turn those models into computer code. Meanwhile, banks' proprietary trading desks are also busily recruiting quants. At a minimum, most trading teams include a trader or portfolio manager, a quant and a developer or engineer.

"Even folks employed are open to hearing about opportunities and are available because a lot of funds had redemptions and layoffs," says Levkov, whose business comes mainly from the buy side. "There's a general sense of uncertainty about certain funds and how they'll control risk in the future. So there certainly are a lot of people on the market."

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Simon Satanovsky, who heads the quantitative research practice for New York-based search firm Options Group, sees a spike in need for options automated market making and high-frequency trading quants. Margins have thinned due to too many shops using identical strategies, so there's a real need for new ideas and models, he explains. At the same time, he says "the layoffs have caused most shops to lose young talent and they need to reload."

While demand in for risk management, compliance and audit staff held up through the downturn, activity has recently picked up in front-office departments such as capital markets, trading, investing, says recruiter Jay Gaines, chief executive of Jay Gaines & Co. "I don't think the job markets are booming. But overall they are developing nicely," Gaines says.

Gerson reports dealer firms are adding advanced technology talent to meet the trading technology and research needs of investment management firms that bulked up with fund managers, strategists and sales people over the past three months. Besides firms hiring quants who were casualties of the 2008 and early 2009 layoff waves, he's seeing high-end quants switch among bulge-bracket employers in search of better growth prospects.

What about the future? Barring some unexpected disaster, seasonal forces alone should propel robust hiring next quarter. Levkov cites the coming year's budget dollars along with hires delayed into the new calendar year to spare employers having to make up amounts a recruit forfeited by jumping ship before collecting their 2009 bonus.

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