2004 - City headhunting in central Europe
There can be few
places outside the City of London where you can
find such contrasts between high reward and a
sharp intellect on the one hand and irrational,
even eccentric behaviour on the other.
The fall-out in jobs from the
stock market downturn over the past two to three
years was as predictable as the resultant shortage
of expertise that led to a clamour for recruits
when market confidence and investment activity
began to return earlier this year.
The dissipating pool of those
former employees who remained immune to the "once
bitten, twice shy" syndrome appears to have
all but dried up. Who knows how many leavers decided
that they have gone for good? Not for nothing
do newcomers nickname the City "Mordor",
after the slave-run centre of Tolkien's Middle
Severe cutbacks in graduate recruitment
in the previous two years, particularly among
those accounting firms that had provided a reliable
source of recruits in the past, means that recruiters
are having to cast their nets in other markets.
Still the most popular of these
are South Africa and Australasia where similar
accounting qualifications among English-speaking
candidates ensure a comparatively smooth transfer
Robert Walters, founder and chief
executive of the mid-level city recruitment company
that bears his name, has just recruited 30 South
Africans for a single client bank from 150 interviews
and says he expects to be hiring many more.
He compares the market to that
at the end of the 1980s when it was recovering
from the crash of 1987: "It's exactly like
1990 after accounting firms had stopped hiring
graduates in just the same way, leaving a shortage
of qualified people," he says.
But what happens if the Commonwealth
stream also begins to run dry? City headhunter
Hamish Foulton and Ondrej Valenta, a former investment
banker, believe the time is ripe to tap in to
a growing pool of investment banking expertise
in the central European accession countries that
joined the European Union in May.
Their new business, EU Professionals*,
has been established to headhunt qualified central
Europeans for the London market. "We think
there is a strong groundswell of potential central
and eastern European recruits for the City, and
we know where to find them," says Mr Foulton.
The company is in its start-up
stage and the model has yet to be tested. The
partners concede that they may face concerns among
employers about imperfect use of English, and
worries from potential candidates about living
costs, although Mr Foulton believes his experience
running a property business will help people to
find affordable housing.
The partners believe that the
opportunity to work in London will prove the biggest
lure and Mr Valenta says he has had positive responses
among potential candidates who are currently living
and working in Prague.
The assumption that large numbers
of financially qualified eastern Europeans may
be keen to travel west, however, is challenged
by recruiters at Antal International who have
been headhunting people into Russia for the past
"Most of the westward movement
we have seen is internal among large companies
taking their eastern European employees to their
operations in the west," says Tremayne Elson,
He says that a growing market
for financial talent in Russia is attracting many
Russian expatriates back from jobs abroad. "I
know some Russians who live with their families
in London, fly out to work in Moscow during the
week, then fly back to their families for the
weekend," he says.
The company says it has collected
50 CVs from Russians wanting to go back to Moscow
where banks such as Morgan Stanley are actively
recruiting. Lower levels of income tax, lower
living costs for locals, and the familiarity of
the home country all help to tempt people back.
While enlargement has made it
easier to move central Europeans to London, it
has not led to a significant exodus of people
towards the UK, says Mr Elson. The reality for
London, as always, is that it is competing in
an international marketplace where movement can
go two ways. For the longer term, the City's banking
community is showing increasing interest in recruiting
from its immediate neighbourhood.
Katie Stewart, a director of
the Blomfield Group, which includes financial
recruiter Joslin Rowe, says that recruiters are
being encouraged increasingly by City investment
banks to develop relationships with groups that
promote diversity and recruitment opportunities
for ethnic minorities.
One of these organisations, Global
Graduates, has been providing courses in schools
among potential ethnic minority recruits who might
have the potential and enthusiasm to pursue a
career in the City. Global Graduates has established
strong links with financial recruiters who can
provide internships and work experience leading
to permanent jobs.
"It's becoming increasingly
important that we develop a diverse and inclusive
workforce in the City so recruiters are looking
further afield and also more comprehensively among
the local community," says Ms Stewart.
The diversity drive, however,
should not be interpreted as a softening of employment
attitudes among City banks. Interest grew markedly
two years ago when a piece of research undertaken
by Barclays Bank and the Cabinet Office linked
effective diversity policies with business success.
Specialist services - such as
the provision of Islamic mortgages which create
a mechanism for house purchases that avoid the
direct payment of interest forbidden in Islamic
law - are perceived as lucrative niche areas among
In the meantime, there are signs
that the recruitment rush at the beginning of
the year is steadying as budgets are used up and
human resources departments turn their attentions
"The banks that had big
hiring budgets at the beginning of the year went
out and gorged themselves and now we are seeing
some levelling off of activity," says Ken
Brotherston, chairman of Morgan McKinley, the
financial recruiter. "But underlying demand
remains extremely strong. "We are seeing
growing interest in developing under-utilised
avenues of recruitment. Returning mothers, for
example, are proving an excellent workforce."
Earlier predictions among pay
experts that bonuses might be restricted this
year after average increases of between 10 and
20 per cent in 2003, are being dismissed in some
quarters as an attempt to manage expectations.
For the same reason, seasonal "leaks"
of possible restructuring plans are seen by some
as nothing more than ploys to suppress hopes of
more large bonuses this year.
The reality is that employers
know an overly parsimonious approach could backfire
if staff walk away in the knowledge that labour
as a pdf file