Boston-Area Hiring Looking Up; Compliance, Product Management, Marketing Pros in Demand

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We spoke with Jim Langan, partner and manager of the investment and financial services division at Winter, Wyman, a staffing firm headquartered in Waltham, Mass., that serves the New England and metropolitan New York markets.

What is the current climate for financial hiring in the Boston area? Is demand still improving, or stabilizing, or backtracking?

Hiring in the financial services sector in Boston has steadily improved within the first three months of 2010. The last two weeks of March in particular were the most active I have seen in 12 months and should point toward a very active job market in April and May.

The stock market has shown a steady and consistent increase over the past four months and that always makes firms feel more comfortable about hiring. There is a general sense that the recession is over and now is the time to start hiring for future growth and opportunity.

At the same time, the larger investment and financial service firms are still cautious about hiring. They do not want to move too quickly when it comes to adding staff. A majority of the new positions and hiring we are seeing with financial service and investment firms are with the small to medium size firms. The larger firms are still holding off or being very selective, but I expect that will change over the next 3-4 months.

Are you seeing more activity from long-only buy-side shops (a big presence in your geography, obviously), or banks, or alternative investment firms?

We have seen a steady increase in long-only buy-side firms hiring. Again, this is coming from small to medium size firms.The mutual fund companies, high net worth firms, and boutique institutional asset managers have been very active in hiring.

The hedge funds have shown a slight increase in hiring - mostly within compliance as new regulations are coming up. But, overall they are very quiet.

We have seen very sporadic hiring within the banking community and almost all of that was within the mortgage side. Since lending has dropped dramatically and that is one of their biggest sources of growth and revenue, hiring in that area has been very slow.

The biggest bright spot in hiring we have seen, which is a signal that things are improving, is within institutional sales and marketing. We have seen a number of those positions in the last three months.

Which particular skills or types of experience are getting the most demand?

Compliance continues to be the hottest area for hiring. All firms have shown a renewed interest in looking for top compliance professionals. The other areas of growth are investment product managers, CPA's with investment client experience, and client service/marketing professionals.

Ever since mid-2009 we keep hearing about banks that cut heads too deeply moving to re-staff. Is that going on in asset management firms too?

I wouldn't say that happened in Boston. The investment and financial service firms in Boston were very strategic in their downsizing of employees, so as to not make the same mistake that banks and some large service providers had made in the past only to then scramble to re-hire people.

Investment firms are currently operating very lean in terms of their staffing levels. This works well for the firms themselves, however it puts an increased workload and stress on employees because they are given increased responsibilities and less support. This is one of the things that we continue to hear from candidates and will ultimately result in high turnover if not properly addressed.

What is the trend of compensation?

In any market, this one included, companies are always willing to make a great offers for great candidates who are highly qualified for the job. However,on the whole offers are fair and increases are slight.

Here is one of the challenges that we will start to see as we rebound and more jobs become available. For the last two years, a number of firms in the investment industry have had salary freezes, in some cases salary cuts, and bonuses have been dramatically impacted. When the market rebounds a number of candidates are going to feel that a potential employer should make up for the lack of salary increases and reduced bonuses. In most cases they are not going to be willing to do that given what just happened over the last two years. For example, fund accountants at some firms have had no salary increases for two years and they are going to look for a 20 percent pay increase in their next role instead of a typical and more reasonable 6 - 12 percent increase. Companies are going to have to decide if they want to pay more to compete for the top candidates.

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