Banks, Finance IT Hiring Technologists Despite COVID-19 Crunch

In London, on Wall Street, in Paris and in Frankfurt, COVID-19 has unleashed some crazy times. Things that were taken for granted last month (or even last week) no longer hold as societies go into lockdown and markets crash.  This isn’t likely to quickly pass: this week’s COVID-19 modelling document from London’s Imperial College suggests that if social distancing measures and quarantines are maintained until August and then lifted, there will simply be an even bigger surge in the virus in the coming autumn and winter. 

What does all of this mean if you were hoping to change jobs this year? With health considerations to the fore, some of you will shelve plans to find new roles.

But as we noted last week, banks are still hiring despite the COVID-19 threat. New jobs continue to be released and candidates continue to be interviewed… albeit by video and telephone rather than face-to-face. However, hiring right now is far more likely in the middle and back office than in the front, even though this is traditionally front office hiring season for finance.

“It was rocking and rolling until the beginning of March,” one London investment-banking headhunter said. “But in the past 10 days everything’s shut down and there’s no indication when it will start up again.” 

In front-office market roles, COVID-19 has made things much worse. Even though some equity derivatives desks have done well this month, hiring is the last thing on people’s minds. “It’s shut down,” said the head of a fixed-income search boutique. “Everyone is in survival mode. Hiring is so far off someone’s to-do list that it would seem preposterous to even suggest it.” Another fixed income headhunter agreed: “People will be asked to cut headcount by 10 percent to 20 percent in the next few months. Anyone talking about adding to headcount now is going to seem mental.”

And yet, leading banks tell us they are hiring despite COVID-19. But who? 

As ever, recently-released jobs are the key indicator. And they suggest that technology professionals are top-of-mind now for banks and finance firms. Of the 20 UK jobs released since Monday at JPMorgan, for example, 13 are in technology and most of the others are in support functions. Notably, the bank is continuing to build out its machine learning team, both in London and New York (where JPMorgan is looking for a ‘fraud machine learning data science modeler’ for the commercial bank). Morgan Stanley, too, has released a handful of middle and back office jobs in London, and has begun looking for (among other things) a data science desk strategist in New York. 

Given the complexity of getting new hires signed-off in a market that’s melting down, some headhunters suggest the best bet now is to pursue jobs on the buy-side, where employers can be more nimble when it comes to recruiting. But this may prove challenging as safe haven assets buckle under the coronavirus pandemic and investors seek redemptions.

The best bet, then, may be to breathe. Take stock. Wait. Stay safe and see what happens next. The head of markets at one bank in Italy says there could be a way out of this sooner than you think: “People will look for a stabilization of COVID-19 cases here in the next 15 days and Italy will then become the reference point for Western World dynamics. If there is a slowdown in Italy, then markets will stabilize and potentially recover later in the year.” Some at Goldman Sachs have been saying much the same. 

Even if quarantines and social distancing remain in place for months, some in the market are optimistic that the recruitment process will adapt. “For the moment, fear and volatility are preventing hires,” said one source. “But if the virus, working from home and split sites become business as usual, then things will start to creep back. You could yet see some big moves later in the year, particularly as people will be far less costly to buy-out than before this began.” 

A modified version of this article originally appeared in eFinancialCareers.