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Monday, September 28, 2009

Financial sector hiring to surge 20% this quarter

Emirates Business 24-7, 28 September 2009

Recruitment for the financial sector has started picking up in the region and estimates point to a 17 to 20 per cent increase this quarter compared to the previous three months.

Industry executives said companies, particularly international ones, are expected to allocate higher budgets towards recruitment and training of their staff in 2010.

As economic sentiment gets positive, the financial sector, which saw heavy lay-offs during the onset of the crisis, is preparing to seize business opportunities by hiring the right kind of people. However, the current focus is on hiring specialists and high-calibre staff who will help generate revenues and, in most cases, fill the positions that are left vacant.

Robert Half UAE, a recruitment company that has published its Salary Guide UAE 2009-2010, said demand for finance and accounting specialists in the UAE continued, whereas there was a drop in demand for support functions such as human resources and IT.

Placement consultants and analysts said it is an opportune time to hire staff at "realistic salaries". As per estimates there has been a 20 per cent decline in salaries this year and, with manpower available at lower costs, the analysts advise that organisations should not delay hiring further if they are to take advantage of the economy picking up.

The financial sector, including banks and asset management firms, took a beating during the economic crisis and saw massive job cuts globally. A report by Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said 15 million job cuts took place between end of 2007 and July 2009. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated global unemployment rate to increase to 7.1 per cent and 51 million jobs to be lost in 2009 compared to six per cent in 2008 and 5.7 per cent in 2007.

Of the total job losses, the financial sector contributed a major share.

However, the past three months have reported relative stability in job cuts globally and, if placement consultants are to go by, positive sentiment has started showing results in jobs markets.

In a survey of 1,500 people conducted by Naukri?gulf.com, more than 60 per cent of respondents said that had started to hire again.

"Companies have definitely started hiring now. Our survey showed that more than 60 per cent are recruiting people again. Jobs on our website have increased. Now, post Ramadan, there is an increase in activity," Rahul Khar, Zonal Manager of Naukrigulf.com, told Emirates Business.

After the job cuts, uncertainty about improvement in economic conditions has seen companies adopting a wait and watch policy. However, the same appears to be giving way to hope about betterment resulting in a focus on seizing the opportunities that businesses foresee in near future, the consultants said.

James Sayer, Senior Manager at Robert Half UAE, said: "Finance and accounting has fared better than other sectors due to the need to having strong F&A functions during a downturn, with a real focus on treasury, financial control and accounts payable positions."

Nofel Izz, Director, JobsInDubai.com, said: "Jobs in the financial sectors are showing more stability now than in March and April of 2009. The increase would be approximately 17 per cent in this quarter as compared to the previous quarter."

Charles Francis, Partner with GCC Partners, said: "In the past three weeks we have seen people starting to put plans into action. We have been hired for consultancy, received mandates to hire new staff and train new staff. The time has come not just to talk about it but actually start putting some of these things into action.

"Besides, the markets are looking better. Across the world, markets are rallying, there is confidence. They are looking ahead rather than just looking over the shoulder. The financial sector is positive. It has become a lot busier. Asset management firms are looking to hire analysts, brokerages are in need of brokers - everywhere they are hiring."

Large corporates, said consultants, are expected to allocate a higher share of their budgets for the next year towards recruitment and hiring.

"Bigger companies are doing their annual budgets. As they prepare their budgets for 2010 at the end of Q3 and in Q4, we are expecting them to be more comfortable allocating towards recruitment, training and consultancy," added Francis.

Christo Daniels, General Manager, iQselection, said: "It is busier now compared to the past quarter. Unlike a few weeks ago when people were shying from making decisions, they are now doing so. Activity post-Ramadan has picked up and the lead time between placing a job vacancy and filling a post is becoming shorter."

For fresh recruitments, firms are looking at "the best candidates" who can help generate revenues instead of hiring in large numbers. In addition, training existing staff is also high on agenda.

"What happened in the past is that they hired across the board and in large volumes, whereas now they are much more selective. They are combining consultancy and recruitment. Looking for people who are more experienced and high calibre, rather than hiring in large numbers.

"Companies have already finished job cuts. They are now looking at generating revenues and the staff they add would help them attain that goal. They are looking at specific areas and are much more selective in re-hiring. As they realise this, they are also opting for consultants who can help them frame plans in this field," said Francis of GCC Partners.

"Employers prefer hiring candidates who are more UAE-based than overseas, or at least if the person is available in the region would stand a better chance. They are also looking for brand names when it comes to hiring someone in the financial industry, so if your company is listed on Nasdaq, you will probably have a better chance at a finance job in Dubai than others," said Izz.

An increase in allocation towards training too is being seen, the consultants said. "Firms are training the staff in cases where they feel the need. The staff in this region is very eager to have training and expand their skills set. Training has been high on the agenda particularly in the past year. As things start to get better, managements are doing training much more than they did last year," said Francis.

"In some cases there is 100 per cent increase in training budgets, many companies told us this is the first time they are going for it. They are realising the value addition."

Analysts said firms which are hiring at the moment are able to save as candidates are available for "realistic" salaries. "Companies are hiring individuals but the pay scales are 20 per cent lower than what they used be in 2007," said Izz.

Robert half said top UAE performers include managing directors in financial services with more than 15 years' experience, who can expect annual salaries in excess of $350,000 (Dh1.28 million); and chief financial officers of similar standing, who take home packages of between $250,000 and $400,000. For those with less than two years' experience under their belts, the allure of banking is still clear, with junior private bankers starting on $100,000 per annum.

Lower salaries make it beneficial for firms to fill vacant positions, the consultancy said. "Right now is a good opportunity to hire people on realistic salaries. People just want to stay here. Maybe 12 months from now would be a different picture," said Francis.

The consultants said there are companies that are still waiting for things to improve further and not hiring but these stand a risk of losing the talent pool already available in the country and may face tougher competition in days ahead, or even lose some opportunities that have started to arise.

"Some companies are being a little slower and losing. The worry is that if they lose another six months, the talent pool may be scarcer. There is a mixed talent pool here in the region. Globally, large companies are hiring and people are moving to places where they are getting jobs. If regional companies wait till next year the competition will be greater, they might have to spend more on salaries. Even as the region attracts people due to the tax regime, people are currently more concerned about having a job. So they are leaving due to opportunities abroad," Francis said.

By Shveta Pathak

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