If you leave the market this time, you won't come back
Banks are already eradicating people. If revenues suffer, as seems likely, from Greek-inspired risk aversion, they may eradicate more jobs still.
Since the lows of 2008, most banks have ramped up headcount considerably. For example, BarCap has around 1,700 more people than three years ago; Goldman has 6,000 more; Credit Suisse and UBS have around 2,000 and 2,300 more respectively.
In the event of another seizure of the financial system, that's a lot of additional people to carry through a period of poor revenues. As JPMorgan analyst Kian Abouhossein noted last week, many banks no longer have the luxury of riding out revenue reductions by cutting bonuses: at UBS he estimates that 82% of compensation costs are now fixed, versus 66% in 2009.
All of this seems to spell something very nasty for the front office job seeker.
"Banks are having redundancies. It's continuous, but below the radar. As the business continues to contract, they're going to keep cutting. They've finally realised they've got bull market employees in a bear market world," says Jason Kennedy, managing director of search firm Kennedy Associates.
So what happens if you lose your job at this juncture?
Kennedy has a grave warning for those involuntarily leaving the market now: "This time, the people who leave the market won't come back," he says. "The market's contracting. They're not going to get new jobs."
Who's not hiring
Rumours of hiring freezes for front office positions are gathering pace. The former head of recruitment at one European investment bank points out that freezes are never absolute and will always be broken for strategic hires, but they definitely make hiring harder.
BarCap's said to have a freeze in its markets division, so too is Credit Suisse. Others, like Nomura are still said to be upgrading - despite boasting of aggressive cost discipline only last week.
Time to drop your price?
The key reason banks are hesitant about recruiting now is, predictably, cost.
Hence, UBS's global head of commodities said last week that he had planned to hire 30 people for 2011, but is now only hiring 15 on the grounds that "People who are good are really expensive."
One headhunter confirms this: "I'm trying to move a guy who was paid 975k for 2010. For 2009 and 2008 he was paid 1.2m. The client's offering him 975k on the grounds that bonuses are going to be down 20% this year, but he won't accept."
If you get ejected from the market in 2011, can you therefore job drop your price to get back in? The headhunter isn't so sure.
"The difference in 2008 was that the senior managers who were thrown out had money and experience behind them and could afford to take their time. Now, a lot of people who are being let go don't have money and have been promoted rapidly over the past few years. They're going to be pretty desperate to get back in and the more desperate they are, the less they'll be wanted," he predicts ominously.
Equally, post-2008, banks' FICC revenues were boosted by interest rate cuts and quantitative easing. This encouraged rebuilding. In the event of a sovereign debt crisis, European banking crisis and global currency realignment, this may not be repeated.
The positive perspective
More promisingly, Philip Beddows, a founder partner of executive coaching firm The Silk Road Partnership, says it's never impossible to get back into the market.
"When someone says to me that they can't back in, I won't agree as I'm always optimistic for people" he says. "It's about finding a niche which exists for yourself that might not be evident today and putting together a business plan for re-launching yourself into the market as a commercial proposition."
People losing their jobs in 2011 will need to hope Beddows, not Kennedy, is right.