This is what it will really take for banks to start hiring again

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This is what it will really take for banks to start hiring again

Things are looking up. On both sides of the Atlantic people are slowly seeping back to their old desks and new front office banking jobs are appearing on banks' websites. There's a semblance of normality, but things are still far from normal - especially if you're a recruiter. 

In the past week, banks like Deutsche, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays have begun trying to fill new front office markets positions in London and New York City. - Deutsche, for example, is looking for a rates structurer and a precious metals spot forwards trader in London. Morgan Stanley wants a emerging markets trader at associate level. Barclays is looking for an insurance equity researcher. Goldman wants a New York-based 'central trader' for its asset management division. With sales and trading revenues expected to have another strong quarter, it seems banks may be rethinking their willingness to hire.

Some recruiters are certainly ebullient. "Hiring has been gathering pace again. Credit in particular is seeing a lot of hiring as banks execute plans for replacement hires and upgrading,” says Kumaran Surenthirathas at Rosehill Search in London. Others, however, say that recruitment by banks is still unusually low. "There's a lot of interviewing happening, but firms are being very cautious," says Michael Karp, New York-based CEO of global search firm Options Group. "I don't think the sell-side has configured its way through hiring via Zoom."

This more pessimistic perspective is borne out by the data. - Although the number of new jobs released by major global banks in New York and London is off its May lows, figures from Burning Glass show very little improvement in banks' vacancies since early June. The new normal is the old abnormal.

The problem, say recruiters, is cost: most banks went into 2020 with big cost cutting plans; those plans were put on hold due to the pandemic, and until they resume there's no appetite for new headcount. 

"In a normal year a bank will let go of 30-40 people in the front office and hire another 20-30 as they upgrade," says one search consultant. "This is how it's been for the past three to four years - you need to cut to add. Banks have shuttered hiring with their commitments to protect people from being laid off. "

It's an opinion that's widespread in the industry. And if it's correct, financial services recruitment won't really recover until banks resume the layoffs they planned at the start of the year. HSBC and Deutsche are already getting back on track with cost cutting. Others are reminding employees of the reality gently: Goldman Sachs' CEO David Solomon said yesterday that the firm plans to resume cost cutting "heading into 2021 and beyond."  

Goldman staff may welcome the delay. Recruiters across the industry may have more mixed emotions. 

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Photo by James Yarema on Unsplash

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