Why you can't find a new finance job - yet

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It's not you, it's the market. If you're looking for a new front office banking job and you can't find one, that might be because banks are still biding their time. This could be about to change, maybe.

"There's a lot of waiting," says one fixed income headhunter who specializes in macro products, "Banks still want to see who leaves."

"It's not a dynamic market in any sense," agrees Christian Robbins at fixed income search firm Alpha Tradestone, "But the feeling is that it won't take much to instigate an episode of musical chairs."

The musical chairs will start if and when people who are unhappy in their current seat get up in search of something better. Optimists point to signs that this is already starting to happen, with a handful of recent exits from Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs, for example.

Mostly, however, the movement in the first quarter has happened in tier two houses. Here, emerging markets are hot. Commerzbank and Jefferies have both been bolstering their emerging markets teams. So too has Standard Chartered, which hired Matthew Dunker, an emerging markets credit trader from J.P. Morgan, along with Harroon Sana, a new head of rates sales from Scotiabank. Elsewhere, Cantor hired Nick Taylor from Lombard Forte Securities as an MD in bond sales in London. And HSBC hired Greg Sadler from CQS. 

While tier two banks spring into action, hiring remains surprising muted at tier one houses. Despite headhunter claims that Morgan Stanley has decided it's "underweight in FX and emerging markets" and is "actively looking to hire and out there speaking to everyone," there's little sign of anything conclusive. Competition for places is high thanks to an influx of talent from hedge funds. Funds like Eton Park and Prologue have closed and others like CQS have cut costs with the result that ex-bank traders who've spent much of past decade in hedge funds are suddenly competing for senior roles. Why hire an also-ran when you could hire a (faded) star?

It's not much better in cash equities, a business in which Oliver Wyman and Morgan Stanley suggest revenues are in terminal decline.  “There’s some specific hiring across most firms in the City within their core franchise, but most banks are still cautious,” says Oliver Rolfe at search firm Spartan Partnership. “With MiFID II approaching next year, most banks are in wait and see mode.”

In equity research, banks are cutting rather than hiring. Kai Korschelt, head of European tech research is understood to have gone from BAML, along with Joel Spungin, a business services researcher and the leisure team, run by Simon Larkin. Bank of America declined to comment, but headhunters blame MiFID. "It's survival of the fittest," says one. "You don't need 30 people covering stocks any more, you need 10."

In corporate finance and M&A, recruiters say hiring is stifled by senior bankers' refusal to step down and junior bankers' diminishing enthusiasm for the buy-side. "There are fewer jobs in hedge funds and private equity than their used to be," says Andy Pringle at search firm Circle Square. "Because of this, there's less of the natural movement that usually occurs at this time of year." With private equity funds sitting on unprecedented amounts of dry powder, juniors who do move to private equity are understood to be concerned about dealflow - there's simply more action in banks. One large American bank is said to have trimmed its M&A hiring plans after fewer senior bankers than usual exited.

Herein lies the problem. The 2017 hiring carousel will only really start if the dissatisfied bankers of the world decide to do something about it. So far there's little sign of this. For all Deutsche's bad bonuses and headhunters' claims of unprecedented receptiveness from DB people, exits from the German bank have been a trickle rather than a rush. Credit Suisse's best traders are said to be tied in by the retention bonuses averaging CHF1.5m paid to 150 top staff this year. As risk aversion trumps restlessness, gaps that might have opened up haven't yet to do so. "In banking nowadays everyone complains about their sh*tty bonuses, but no one ever leaves of their own accord," one trader observes.

Let this be a call to action. Or not.

Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

Photo:  Alphotographic/Getty

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