Expats in America: Banks Here Would Rather Hire Locally - Unless You're an MD

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Sliding global markets and the summer doldrums have put a clamp on bank headcount, especially for foreign professionals. Except at senior levels, many banks can't afford to bring on expats, who remain among the costliest new hires.

Jim Morrison, global head of lateral recruiting at Credit Suisse, says the firm's hiring of expats is down this year. Roles being filled from overseas are usually senior managing director and other top positions, with mid- and junior-level slots filled by U.S. residents.

The cost to hire an expat can be prohibitive. Banks must contend with housing, relocation and other costs that can usually be stomached only in boom times. Today, Says Morrison: "If we're engaging in a senior level search we want the best talent, and I'm not sure that relocation would discourage us."

This year, Credit Suisse has limited expats to roles in which a suitable candidate simply can't be found locally. International candidates are seeing opportunities in the bank's growth businesses, such as securities and fixed income. Product control, finance and accounting positions that protect sales and trading activities are a hot area for British expats in the U.S., as well as the firm's Asian-Pacific operations.

Robert Church, head of U.S. compensation, benefits and international mobility at BNP Paribas, says the bank will bring aboard expats in roles including fixed income, portfolio management and research. However, such hiring has slowed. "Generally, it's not a good time for expat hiring," he says. "Companies are worried about the bottom line and expat expenses stick out."

Overseas Transfers Still Possible

Still, Church notes, the bank continues to make international assignments for existing staff when "the transfer was the right move for the employee and the position." BNP Paribas also looks more kindly on moving existing employees overseas when it makes sense.

European talent is still coming in, though, says Michael Karp, co-founder of Options Group, a search firm. Businesses with volatility - interest rates, equities, and derivatives - are the active ones here. "Every bank wants to have its accounts fully covered, and you can only do that on the ground in the U.S.," he observes. And bulge bracket banks - faced with the arduous task of finding good talent - will look when they need to in Europe and Asia.