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Tanya Sinha

Empty thrones

BY TANYA SINHA

Throughout the last two quarters, most hiring managers in banks were grappling with multiple offers and counter offers, thinking the worst of them.

However, the dust has now settled. After all the hustle and bustle, the themes gradually emerging in most banks’ hiring are internal mobility and internal referrals – two factors not entirely new to the financial services hiring scene, they recur in definitive and repetitive cycles. Following speculation that banks hired in significant numbers last year in proportion to their businesses and appetites, this phase of internal consolidation may not be surprising. However, what seems to be slightly out of the ordinary this time around is the fact that banks are willing to let vacancies continue even at senior levels of the organisation.

It is obvious that all banks have lost people across their businesses to competitors in the past year. There were immediate attempts often made to replace the losses at junior, transactional and individual contributor levels. These days however, replacements have often been sought internally before the role is opened up to the market. This trend applies to consumer banking, corporate banking and wealth management alike. The logic is simple: someone who transfers internally from another part of the bank’s business and who already knows the bank’s systems and the main stakeholders is as good as – if not sometimes better than – someone with the sought-after experience, but different expectations from another bank who has to familiarise himself/herself with the environment from scratch.

However much has changed these days as banks are more willing to let empty chairs be even after a considerable time if no real internal successor has been identified. Interestingly, this trend seems to predominantly apply to senior roles – either in management or otherwise. Under normal circumstances, if a high profile resignation has taken place and the market is abuzz with it, the affected bank would be quick to work out an interim solution and declare it. This is not the case nowadays as some organisations are content in maintaining the status quo with the intention of hiring the best candidate for the role or not hiring at all.

At junior levels, a prolonged vacancy often means that the existing teams might be a little stretched and under slightly increased performance pressures. However, given the impression that banks have hired sufficient junior staff to give them some sort of bench strength, it does not seem to cause much ripples of dissent.

However, with senior level role vacancies, spotlight is placed on the next layer of talent and they come under pressure to prove that they can forge their way to deliver or manage big deals on their own. In addition, with the senior layer gone, getting even a minor replacement headcount becomes an arduous task. In such cases, senior bankers often have to grapple with the frustration of needing to hire but not being allowed to simply because every hire needs to be made into a case study and approved by the highest authority. Thence, it is not uncommon these days to have a team comprising of all but one member – the team leader at a Director/MD level – with most of the team gone and the MD unable to get approvals to hire more than the absolute necessary headcount.

This is not a cold-hearted business apathy that we are witnessing. If we look beyond the initial pressures, it does point towards the fact that banks are expecting the people they hired last year to come up to speed and deliver results – a reasonable expectation from a re-expanded business. What started off as positive business sentiments needs to be translated into actual business results before the floodgates open again, if at all.

In any case, time will tell as the second quarter of every year has always been more telling than the first of what will pass and what will be here to stay.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Asian Banking & Finance. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Tanya Sinha

Tanya Sinha

Tanya Sinha is Manager of Financial Services at Robert Walters. She has more than 12 years of banking and recruitment experience across various banking segments and regions.  

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