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The big finance hiring during COVID-19 is not in banks

If you're looking for a new finance job during the COVID-19 pandemic, large banks may not be the best places to focus your efforts. While some banks - like UBS - explicitly emphasized their ongoing recruitment when they reported their first quarter results last week, most finance recruiters say banks' processes are too cumbersome to handle the complexities of hiring in a WFH world. Instead, recruiters are turning their attention to more nimble market participants who are actually filling spaces in the new reality.

"The trading firms using algorithms to provide liquidity for hedge funds and asset managers have been killing it during COVID-19," says one headhunter who specializes in providing algorithmic trading talent. "They did a year's P&L in a month in March and they're almost all open for business and are looking to clean up on the talent coming out of other places."

Which are these trading firms? Recruiters point to Virtu Financial, which is due to report its first quarter results tomorrow, but has indicated already that its income doubled in the first three months of 2020 versus 2019. There's also Citadel Securities, which accounted for about a quarter of the volume in U.S. exchange traded stock options before the crisis and has doubled its headcount in the past two years according to LinkedIn, along with the likes of Jane Street, Jump Trading and Optiver.

Quant funds like Two Sigma and DE Shaw, which dabble on the boundaries of high frequency trading (HFT) are hiring too: DE Shaw told us last week that it had onboarded 22 employees remotely since March 9th. Two Sigma has 72 jobs open currently, of which 60 are in New York City, which has been particularly badly hit by banks' reduced recruitment during the pandemic.

Recruiters' enthusiasm for placing people with the growing electronic market makers could not be more at odds with the gloom that's settled over banks' recruitment, even in electronic trading. "There's just not much going on," says one headhunter who places electronic trading talent in large sell-side institutions. "A lot has been put on hold. Nothing is being signed off. The problem is that no one is being laid off and no one is leaving. There's no natural turnover and banks don't want to add staff in this situation."

As banks enter a period of stasis, electronic market makers are increasingly moving into their territory. Many roles at alternative liquidity providers are for quants or technologists, but there are sales and strategy opportunities too. Citadel Securities, for example, now has a seven man team under ex-Deutsche Bank managing director David Silber to help it win order flow from institutional clients. Jane Street is hiring a credit sales associate to work with institutional clients in New York and a fixed income salesman to expand its institutional offering in Hong Kong. 

Away from the electronic market makers, recruiters say proprietary trading firms are hiring too, as are agency brokers like BCG Partners. However, some caution that it's a buyers' market. "The bar has really been raised," says Mike Sharp at Peritium Search Associates. "It's only the very top tier of candidates who are being asked to interview." 

Natalie Basiratpour, a director at search firm Octavius Associates, warns that much of the hiring in the active areas of the market is opportunistic. "Yes, high frequency trading firms are hiring, but recruiting and hiring in HFT is like sports agency recruitment. Even if a club has a full team, they won't say no to someone like Messi wanting to join them. - If a trader has a track record of generating revenue with a strategy, HFTs will always be interested in talking to them.

"The real question is whether they can afford the wages and transfer fee," she adds. 

Photo by ÇAĞIN CEYDA on Unsplash

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • pb
    6 May 2020

    I'm no fan of firms manipulating the market with high frequency trading. It's a high speed gambling mill, and it frequently screws individual investors. But in terms if working from home, there are many job functions and individuals who can do a good job working remotely, and some who can't. Some job functions work better on site. But the big issue is management. Will they hire and pay for the technology to work well? Can managers learn how to remotely manage employees? At one asian bank I recently worked at in NYC, lots of managers were incapable of working directly with their employees, let alone managing them directly. Maybe lessons learned from Covid-19 will lead some firms to finally clean house of their incompetent managers, and for HR to start teaching employees and managers how to work effectively remotely, how to communicate better wherever you are. But I'm not holding my breath.

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