People Moves

Headhunters Cautious About EMEA Job Market, Smile On Asia

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 1 October 2010

Headhunters Cautious About EMEA Job Market, Smile On Asia

The jobs market in Europe and the Middle East has not yet recovered to reach the busy level before the credit crunch but there are signs of quickening momentum in parts of the industry, while the Asian market is brisk.

(Updated with fresh comments. Originally published on 13 September).


The jobs market in Europe and the Middle East has not yet recovered to reach the busy level immediately prior to the credit crunch, but there are signs of quickening momentum in parts of the industry, while the Asian market is brisk as it has ever been, and looks to remain so, say headhunters.

Almost two years have passed since financial markets were pumelled, enduring sagas such as massive losses at UBS, AIG and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. European wealth managers in some cases put graduate recruitment on ice – as in the case of Royal Bank of Scotland’s wealth arm – but the sector is reviving. (RBS has since re-started its programme).

During much of the past 12 months, the brightest spot for job recruitment while other regions cut back was Asia. Singapore and Hong Kong remain bustling wealth management centres, fuelled by both domestically-driven wealth creation and aided by an influx of assets fleeing rising taxes and regulations in the West. This publication reports on a steady, daily diet of big-level moves in Asia at firms such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays Wealth and UBS.

The Middle East has not been so busy – there is a sense that the debt crisis in Dubai has hurt the region. There have, however been selective hires by some firms, such as Emirates NBD. In the words of one headhunter: “MENA/GCC has contracted and is not the soft target that many ‘suitcase bankers’ thought it was. It is proving difficult to break without a long-term plan and strategy to commit and without unrealistic AUM targets.” Another important segment of interest, both in Asia, the Middle East and Europe is for Non-Resident Indians, a large and still-growing expat Indian client base. Some firms, such as Barclays Wealth, have, meanwhile, been cranking up their operations in Africa, hoping that the frontier economies of that continent can yield returns.

WealthBriefing and its sister publications have spoken to executive search firms around the world for their views about the state of the market. Here are some of their views.

Stephen Heal, founder and chief executive, HB International.

"HB International has opened satellite offices in Switzerland last month [August] and is actively seeking a joint venture within Asia with an experienced entity," he said.

“The issue isn’t the lack of activity it is the lack of high calibre professionals to deliver on the assignments that we have” he said. The firm concentrates on international assignments across the ME, Asia, Latam and Europe. 

“For us the key markets remain ME, Latin America and Asia as opposed to the European markets. This focus has allowed us to expand from 5 people when we founded HBI in 2007 to 14 professionals," he said.

Simon Culliford, co-founder of the eponymous headhunter firm with Dudley Edmunds, says the market is, from his vantage point, “patchy”.

“There’s still a sense that banks are not spending money [on recruitment] unless they feel they are really doing the right thing; there is an austerity mood out there,” Culliford said.

“There is awareness of the value of good investment advisory managers. One or two banks have asked us, for example, to identify investment advisors who can work with front-line times. That’s not surprising because firms realise that the client offering has to be as full as possible,” he said.

Tim Gibson-Tullberg, partner of the eponymous Gibson-Tullberg, recently announced his firm had set up an office in Singapore, adding to its base in Switzerland and London. The Singapore opening is proof of where this firm sees much of the jobs action emerging.

Asked about the state of the jobs market, Gibson-Tullberg said: “It is positive with most banks hiring. Banks are prepared to pay to win talent and pursue the rainmakers.”

“Mostly it [wealth jobs] tracks asset generation or migration. Therefore we have demand in LatAm, Far East and EU/UK segments but in variable locations according to bank and client viewpoints. Also there is a significant amount of UHNW demand,” he said.

Nick Careless, managing director, AP Executive.

The market, he said, is “still slow in parts, but a definite shift in volume. It is certainly more buoyant than at any time over the past two years, since the second quarter of 2008.”

“Decision-making can still be very slow-moving at a number of firms. This seems to be changing as a number of erstwhile slow to respond/decide clients have missed the boat on candidates who have been hired by more swift to act/decisive competitors,” said Careless.

He has seen an uptick in senior level business development and sales jobs and an interest in candidates with strong networks (intermediaries market and direct with clients). Other areas of strong activity are in wealth planning and structuring, insurance products and structured products. On the legal side of the wealth arena, contentious trust litigation has proven a busy sector, generating demand for candidates in this field, Careless said.

Careless sees firms are showing a desire to “do more with less” – obtaining candidates with the ability to follow more than one speciality.

“Specialists are expensive – we have seen demand increase for professionals able to turn their hand to different tasks/products,” he said, giving the example of the following sort of job specification: “Wealth planner with/ STEP, fiduciary background, plus insurance and investment knowledge. CFA qualified and FSA registered. To advise clients on all three.” He said these skill sets have been traditionally split between three separate individuals.

Another important trend in the UK and EMEA region, he said, is a rising focus on the importance of recognised qualifications, as in those issued by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, or CFA, and other organisations.

Barry Lawrence, principal consultant at GSI Consultants in Singapore.

“The main hiring focus is currently in respect of private bankers who able to build a significant book of business within a three year time frame. This will increase the level of AuM whilst generating a return on assets which is at present typically in the range of 80 - 100 basis points,” he said.

“Singapore is regarded as the Switzerland of Asia and assets under management have grown from $50 billion in 2000 to $300 billion in 2009,” he said, giving the broad sweep background of why the area is so busy. “Asia is the fastest growing private banking market in the world with AuM expected to grow 12.8 per cent annually until 2013 against a global annual growth of 8.1 per cent,” he said.

“However, the shortage of good calibre private bankers remains an issue and is likely to remain so going forward with private banks raising the bar in terms of AuM requirements for suitable private bankers who decide to make a career move. This has resulted in a reduced pool of potential candidates across all geographical markets with private bankers' AuM in many instances having been reduced as a result of the global financial crisis,” he said.

“Many highly sought after private bankers are thus able to command increased base salaries and guaranteed bonuses which private banks are often willing to pay if it makes good business sense. There remains an appetite for team moves with such groups speaking to several potentially interested parties before deciding as to the best way forward,” he said.

He added that private banks remain wary about hiring investment bankers, corporate bankers or relationship managers from a non-private banking platform for client-facing roles. This may change over time but going forward such individuals will only comprise a modest percentage of the total number of hires, said Lawrence.

(To view the WealthCareers site associated with this publication, click here).

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