Was all that IDB poaching really worth it?

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In theory, the world of interdealer broking is largely dependent on individuals, and key departures or appointments can make or break a firm. As a result, poaching is commonplace.

One firm particularly affected by this is Tullett Prebon, which was embroiled in a high profile case regarding the poaching of staff in its UK operations last year, and then subsequently lost around 77 brokers in its US operations to rival BGC towards in the second half 2009.

At first glance, the impact on Tullett, which reported its first half results yesterday, was evident - revenues fell 23% in North America year-on-year. However, the interdealer broker claims that the net effect of the "raid by BGC" has been to reduce revenue by just 7%.

Certainly, this is reflected in the firm's relatively sanguine attitude when it comes to replacing these staff. Headcount fell by 77 on the affected desks due to the defections, and at June 2010 it was still 49 lower than a year ago.

"We have done some rebuilding, but we have also decided that some of the areas where the raids took place were not as lucrative as they once were," said Terry Smith, chief executive of the firm.

In fact, Tullett has been pulling back from North America, and is instead focusing on Asia, where revenues grew by 13% year on year. Revenue per broker increased by 9%, whereas in Europe this shrunk by 5%.

BGC has yet to report its second quarter results, but during Q1 it seemed to be feeling the benefits of the new recruits. Headcount increased by 19% year on year, and its "front office productivity" increased by 17% quarter on quarter "representing our strongest productivity increases ever", according to Shaun Lynn, president of the firm.

Perhaps one of the more surprising things about this broker merry-go-round was the large sums of involved - there was talk of 2m+ packages for senior movers - and the seemingly "blank cheque" approach to recruitment in the industry.

Is this still possible? After all, IDBs' reputation as the stalwarts of the financial crisis has wavered recently - as evidenced by ICAP's decision to quit cash equities at the expense of 114 jobs. Employees in this division have since reappeared at UBS and UniCredit.

One interdealer broker headhunter believes so. "The focus of has shifted to those with an emerging markets expertise, and with product specialty such as forward FX and in interest rate swaps, but firms are still luring key talent from competitors with significant packages. There hasn't been a fundamental culture shift in this regard."

This is evidenced in Tullett's US operations: "Broker employment costs as a percentage of revenue are higher than a year ago reflecting the increased costs of employment in the light of competitor action and the initial inefficiencies as new hires build up to their full run rate of revenue," it said.

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