Career Advice Oct 19 2011

The Safest Jobs in Finance

By julie steinberg

As the ax falls on Wall Street, financial services employees are rightly concerned whether their positions will exist by the end of the year. Situations can change, but certain job areas still seem immune to the threat of layoffs.

Among them are financial advisors and wealth managers, the accounting profession and almost any finance speciality in an emerging market. At the same time, if you're just breaking into finance, you may want to stay out of some sectors.

Some Wealth Managers

Wealth management was projected to be a large area of hiring for 2011, and that's still the case. Firms need folks to cater to the growing number of global millionaires, with the ultra-rich classified as those with investable assets north of $10 million or $25 million.

Firms want private bankers, not just financial advisors. A private banker looks "more broadly at a client's wealth than an financial advisor does," said Doug Rickart, a banking division director with Menlo Park, Calif.-based recruiting firm Robert Half, while a financial advisor may concentrate just on investable assets.

"We haven't seen the demand for wealth management professionals ease up at all," Rickart said. "Wealth management is a safe place to be."

Financial companies view wealth management as stable due to its steady revenues and low risks. Rickart said clients at Robert Half want client-facing wealth managers as well as mid-office professionals who have operational roles, like trade clearing. Back-office support staff are also needed in accounting, finance and compliance.

Banks want both relationship managers with five or more years of experience as well as junior talent.

Barclays Wealth plans to hire wealth managers globally and plans to double the number of managers in the Americas to 500 by the end of 2015. "We are continuing to build our client facing workforce globally with the majority of hires in the Americas," a spokesperson told FINS.

Deutsche Bank announced plans to hire over 30 relationship managers each year for 2011 and 2012, while Royal Bank of Canadaplans to increase its private banking team to 100 to 120 by 2015, up from around 60 now.

Julie Steinberg discusses finance's safe havens with Evan Newmark on MeanStreet.

Julie Steinberg discusses finance's safe havens with Evan Newmark on WSJ's Mean Street.


Both in-house and outside accountants can breathe easy for a while.

"We're not experiencing a slowdown," said Mike McNamara, regional director at global staffing firm Accounting Principals, a division of New York-based Adeccoo USA, a recruiting agency. "It's not just a matter of being safe – it's a matter of growth."

Demand for accountants increased in the first quarter 2011, second quarter demand was "phenomenal" and continued through the summer, McNamara said. Companies that are planning to go public or launch a new service need accountants to help them with budgeting, financial analysis and systems integration, said Dawn Fay, district president with Robert Half. New financial regulations stemming from the Dodd-Frank Act are also creating accounting work.

"Regulatory issues cause a lot of complexity in the financial area," said Paula Loop, U.S. and global talent leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Dodd-Frank continues to be a focus in the financial services sector."

Positions are open for accounts payable/accounts receivable accountants, financial analysts, auditors, accountants and controllers, said McNamara of Accounting Principals. Robert Half's clients want accountants with credit and risk management skills.

Big accounting firms are also adding talent. KPMG member firms have hired over 53,000 people in the past 12 months as part of its plan to hire 250,000 globally over five years, an initiative announced last December. The firm will hire 75,000 campus graduates over the next three years, a 25% increase over historical recruitment, a spokesperson said.

Deloitte, which also announced plans last year for its member firms to hire 250,000 globally over five years, said the global hiring outlook hasn't changed. Deloitte CEO Joe Echevarria said in August that if conditions don't improve, the firm might bring on 17,000 people in the U.S. instead of the planned 18,000, but for now, the firm's hiring plans remain in place, said Patty Pogemiller, national director, talent acquisition.

PricewaterhouseCoopers said it's monitoring its hiring goals closely but "hasn't pulled back on anything yet," Loop said. The firm plans to hire 45,000 people globally by the end of June 2012, the end of its fiscal year.

Top Private Equity Firms

Many private equity firms aren't hiring, but those with a track record are picking up talent. Over 800 firms are sitting on a total of $384 billion in cash as of October 11, according to data provided by Preqin, a London-based alternative assets research firm.

"The firms that have dry powder are the ones that are hiring," said a private equity associate in New York who asked not to be named. The associate said his firm is actively hiring because it managed to raise money after the financial crisis.

An uptick in deal-making in sectors such as tech or energy means firms that can afford it are bringing in deal professionals. Demand for partner-track jobs have increased by 25% this year, said Sachi Gahan, head of the Venture Capital and Private Equity practice at Glocap Search, a New York-based headhunting firm.

"It makes sense to hire through the financial market downturn," said a partner at a major international private equity firm who did not want to be named. "We invest through the economic cycle, and during the downturn we tend to find that it's a better time for private equity investing, and there happens to be more talented people available to hire at the same time."

Private equity firm Blackstone "expects to hire at its normal rate this year and next," according to a spokesperson. Last year the firm hired more than 150 investment professionals and a similar number of non-investment employees.

Still, plenty of firms are struggling. "It's very Darwinian," said Joseph Logan, a recruiter at Pinnacle Group International, an Arizona-based search group. "If you don't have a really good track record, you're out of business."

Emerging Markets

Banks are expanding workforces in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

"The demand in Asia and Latin America for bankers is exceptionally strong for both multinational firms and local firms," said Heather Hammond, a senior member of the financial services team at Russell Reynolds, the New York-based executive search firm. Brazil, in particular, needs banking and capital markets professionals.

HSBC, which has plans to cut 30,000 workers around the globe, will hire as many as 15,000 workers in emerging markets over the next three years.

So far this year, HSBC has added 1,500 jobs in Asia-Pacific and 800 jobs in Brazil, all of them front-line, revenue-generating roles, according to a spokesperson.

Britain's Standard Chartered is also expanding in emerging markets. The firm is hiring in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and in Africa and the Middle East, said Lee Slater, group head of talent acquisition and international mobility. It will have increased headcount by 1,000 in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by the end of this year, he said.

Danger Zones

Swiss Wealth Managers

It's a dangerous time to be in the wealth management business at some Swiss firms.

UBS will cut 1,225 jobs in its wealth management and Swiss bank division, Credit Suisse is set to eliminate 500 jobs from its private bank and Julius Baer is currently undergoing a hiring freeze.

UBS declined to comment. A spokesperson for Credit Suisse said the cuts will impact the entire private bank in Switzerland, including support functions.

Julius Baer experiences attrition of about 360 positions each year, or about 10% of its workforce. While the bank isn't letting anyone go, it has decided not to fill those positions until the market improves, a spokesperson told FINS. The bank will re-evaluate that position at the end of the year.

Cuts at Swiss banks are the result of the rising Swiss franc, which has the effect of cutting earnings on foreign currency holdings, said Claudio Pannunzio, the president of I-Impact Group, a financial services communications firm, and a former vice president at Credit Suisse First Boston and Republic National Bank

High Swiss salaries are another reason for job eliminations. An August study from UBS found that wage levels in Zurich and Geneva are the highest around the globe, 39% and 44%, respectively, higher than in New York. In order to cut costs, banks are turning to their rosters first as a way to minimize expensive salaries they have to dole out.

"It's also a macroeconomic issue," said the spokesperson at Julius Baer. "The higher cost of living here leads to higher salaries and higher costs for the firms."


Mid-career workers, such as vice presidents or directors, are most likely to be sent to the chopping block when banks trim their headcount.

Between the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2011, almost half of workers aged 35 to 54 at U.S. investment banks and brokerages vacated their positions – about 113,000 people, according to a analysis of data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mid-level workers can often be expensive investments for firms, especially at a time when they're looking to cut costs due to high base salaries that took root after bonuses came under fire in 2009.

"Not that everyone should be nervous, but director is the most vulnerable title level to be at right now," said Leslie Gordon, global sector leader, investment banking, capital markets and alternative investments at Korn/Ferry, the Los Angeles-based executive recruitment firm.

"The director-level has been particularly hard hit during these recent layoffs, regardless of whether the platform is U.S.-based or not."

Write to Julie Steinberg at

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