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Thursday, 26 February 2009

Banks discuss tough times in recruitment

Simon Mortlock

Security and stability are replacing pay and bonuses as the key career factors for bankers, according to a seven-strong panel of senior HR professionals from leading global banks in Hong Kong.

Delegates on the recent roundtable, which was organised by eFinancialCareers, agreed that uncertainly about the future prospects of financial institutions is prompting interviewees to probe more deeply into firms’ strengths and strategies.

One panelist commented: “Junior candidates are especially scared of being last in, first out. They want to join a prudently run organisation. The monetary aspects of a job are less important than getting some degree of security.”

Flexibility to the fore

If HK bankers are becoming less money-obsessed, many of them are also getting more flexible with their careers. Since the financial crisis escalated in October last year, some banks have relocated a few front-office staff into mid-office positions rather than make them redundant. “We try to ensure that they see this move as a long-term option, but of course it’s difficult to tell that staff aren’t doing it purely out of desperation.”

Investment banking candidates are also more open to opportunities in retail and commercial banking. And Chinese firms in Hong Kong are now able to cherry pick talent more easily. “Chinese banks can often move faster with an offer, depending on the job function. They have more money to hire and might even still give sign-ons,” said one attendee.

Recruitment on the ropes

The roundtable delegates, who all asked not to be named, were downbeat on when mass redundancies will be over in HK and when hiring levels will pick up. The fourth quarter of this year remains an optimistic bet for a turn-around in the employment market, with many believing 2010 is more realistic.

In the meantime, most recruitment will continue to be limited and focused on upgrading. “If we can get a better person to do the job then now is a good time to do so…In a bull market, when candidates are in short supply, quality suffers. These days mid to exceptional-level people are out on the street.”

Small pockets activity of remain, especially in private banking where banks still consider taking on experienced relationship managers who can give them new assets-under-management. There are also replacement vacancies in business-critical functions such as risk and compliance.

The young and the jobless

If you have been laid off in HK and only have one or two years’ experience, your immediate job prospects aren’t great, according to the roundtable. “These people are in a bad position and unfortunately we don’t have the time to train them up. So in a couple of years there could be a skills shortage created at the four-year level.”

And even if you ace your interview, the approval process is likely to be complicated and often three to five times as long as it was a year ago. In the words of one delegate: “Head office wants to know about every role we do.”

Change is here to stay (or is it?)

Roundtable attendees agreed that there will be fundamental and lasting changes to the way bonuses are calculated – equities will make up a greater percentage of reward and performance will be measured across longer timescales.

The change-jobs-every-six-months culture of the mid-decade boom has disappeared and attrition rates have dropped markedly as a result. “We have gone from one extreme to the other,” said one delegate.

But the roundtable was divided as to whether bankers will value stability so much when the market picks up. “Candidates could just go back to how they were before the crisis.”

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