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The outlook for Jobs in Finance and Financial Services in 2004 - recruiters express cautious optimism about an upturn Back  
A survey conducted by FINANCE in November and December amongst a selection of the leading financial services recruitment agencies has revealed that it is still an employers’ market, but recruiters are hoping for renewed growth this year. Cathy Madden reports on the outlook, and gleans some tips from top recruiters for those who might be contemplating a career move in the new year.
In a phone-based survey of ten financial services recruitment consultancies: Penna Consulting Ltd; BrightWater Selection Recruitment; Sigmar Recruitment; Executive Connections Ltd; Robert Walters; Joslin Rowe Associates; Merc Partners; Cox, Fitsimons & Wilkes; The Recruitment Business and Richmond Recruitment, the overall feedback was that business was good in 2003. The survey took both the accountancy and the financial services sectors into account, and focussed in particular on movement among candidates with upwards of five years experience.

Most agencies found last year very quiet, but would be ‘cautiously optimistic’ about 2004.

One of the most positive indicators of a recovery the Irish financial recruitment sector was the establishment of a new finance-specific recruitment agency, Cox, Fitzsimons & Wilkes, in May, numbering amongst its promoters David Wilkes, one of the father figures of the Irish financial recruitment industry.

However, according to the majority questioned it is still a client led market with companies able to pick and choose which candidates they want.

‘Recruiters are in the driving seat and everybody’s requirements are huge. There’s more supply in the market than demand’, according to managing director of Cox, Fitzsimons and Wilkkes, Susan Cox. However, she says that in the few months that they’ve been in business, they’ve been kept busy.

Indeed most firms said business was up on last year. Three firms said it was up by 20 percent and one said it was up by 60 to 70 percent. ‘Last year was tough and the market is quiet at the moment, but business was good this year - the first quarter was our best for three years’, said principal consultant with Penna Consulting, Alison Reede.

The general consensus was that business was down considerably compared to the peak recruiting years. Most gave a figure of between 25 to 40 percent. General manager of Executive Connections, Hilarie Geary, said the reason is simply because ‘there isn’t as much movement in the market.’

Bronagh McDonald, managing director at The Recruitment Business, said, ‘This year has been steady, and there is no doubt that the slightly frenetic recruitment that was going on by hiring companies particularly at the lower end of the markets appears to have ceased. At the mid management upward level there has always been at the very least a number of interviews involved and thus the recruitment cycle is longer in any market’.

‘We think that 2004 will be tough enough but with some growth. There will always be competition for senior people particularly in this very tight knit financial services community,’ she added.

There was some considerable variance as to when people considered the boom times in financial services recruitment to be. Some said it begin as early as 1994 while others gave the years between 1999 and 2001, though for many 2000 was when things started to turn.

McDonald believes that the ‘boom’ was between 1994/5 and mid 2000.

‘From our own business perspective, the busiest was between 2000 and 2001, but with the benefit of hindsight things began to plateau in September of 2000’, said partner with Merc Partners, Simon Waddington.

If anything reflects how the demand for people in the industry has levelled off, it’s salaries. The one thing all agree on is that wages have become more realistic.

‘Salaries are now pretty much in line with inflation and not increasing the way they were. People were moving for three to four thousand Irish pounds, now they’re moving for a maximum of two to three thousand euro,’ said financial services consultant with Sigmar Recruitment, Helen O’Reilly.

Director with Robert Walters, Louise Kelly said nothing has changed since last year. ‘This year people would be very lucky to get a four percent increase - it will be performance related. But that should increase into 2004/ 2005.’

However despite the widely held view that things will improve into the new year, there are one or two exceptions. ‘People are feeling more optimistic, but that probably won’t come through until January. Personally I don’t think it’s turned’, said managing director with BrightWater Seelection Recruitment, David Bloch.

‘It’s just a feeling I have unfortunately. People begin to recruit quicker when things turn, but at the moment they’re still doing three to four interviews. The hunt between companies for candidates isn’t on.’

Banking and finance manager with Richmond Recruitment, Wendy Monaghan would also have a more downbeat feeling about the future. ‘There’s going to be a big problem down the road, where candidates won’t have the skills companies are looking for. Unless you meet all the criteria, they don’t want to know.’

‘It definitely isn’t the market it was. The junior end of the market will always see movement but the senior end has bottomed out. We’re just not seeing the CVs coming in.’

Depending on what agency you ask, the senior end of the market is performing better than the junior and vice versa. Some agencies say senior people are staying put, while others say they’ve been involved in a number of start-up companies and recruited mainly senior positions.

Those who are optimistic about the outlook for 2004 cite the steady upturn in the international economy. Given that the Irish financial services market is just a small part of the global economy, as it returns to growth, Ireland is expected to follow suit.

Despite the recent dip in some areas, the area performing consistently the best was fund management. ‘We cannot get our hand on enough people in the funds sector’ said Hilarie Geary.

‘Financial services has always accounted for the largest slice of the pie - 20 to 25 per cent. It’s an area that has always been rather confident’, said Simon Waddington. As with many others, the insurance sector is also keeping his firm busy.

‘We found ourselves very busy with insurance companies in a number of different guises, particularly in the areas of wealth management - brokers and high net worth management skills,’ he said.
Managing director of Joslin Rowe Associates, Paul Cotter agrees, ‘2003 has been a slow and steady pick up. The insurance side of things in the IFSC has keptt us going, and we’ve done three or four captive start-ups during the year.’

Helen O’Reilly says the accountancy roles are still coming in. ‘Accountancy continues to be busy,’ she says. ‘Companies will always need an accountant.’

For those looking to recruit the advice is clear: the staff are out there and the ball is in your court. However there could be pitfalls for when companies find themselves really stuck for staff.

‘There is a danger that most companies find it easy to recruit. However, some companies have a bad reputation and are already having difficulties recruiting. It’s important clients don’t forget that Dublin is small and people remember’, said David Bloch.

So while things are definitely quieter than three to four years ago for candidates, things look like they are on the up. While many other consultants would agree with David Bloch that companies are taking their time when hiring, many wouldn’t view that as a bad thing.

‘In the late 1990s up to 2001 there was a skills shortage. Companies were hiring all the people they could get. Now people are being more selective’, said Paul Cotter.

‘They are spending more time hiring and looking at the individual. It was a false market during the peak years. The vacancies that were filling up were going to die off anyway.’

The solid advice coming from all quarters is for people to look before they leap. ‘Be cautious about a move and don’t be flippant for a couple of thousand of euro more. Look at your career as a whole before you decide’, said Alison Reede.

At the more senior end of the market candidates should keep doing their day job and do what they can to stand out. ‘Raise your profile - be published or speak at conferences’, said Simon Waddington. And he said the hard work should pay off.

‘Clients are looking for value for money - there is a recognition that times have been tougher. However if someone is brought in at the senior end and makes a real difference, it’s recognised also that that person will pay their way quite quickly.’

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