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Monday, 10 June 2013
Three specialist recruitment agents covering key private client regions give their impressions and advice on the current market

After an unsettled period caused by the financial crash of 2008, things are starting to look up for recruitment in trusts and estates. In Switzerland and Liechtenstein, candidates who are professionally qualified solicitors with strong onshore experience are finding themselves in demand. In the UK, family offices have withstood the worst of the global macro-economic problems, with London-based firms remaining particularly strong. The UAE is also rebounding, and opportunities are on the rise as expats are staying there longer, buying property and looking to protect their wealth. Here, three specialist recruitment agents covering key private client regions give their impressions and advice on the current market.

The changing picture in Jersey, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Singapore, according to Dominic Thatcher

The past few years have seen a dramatic change in the overall nature of the recruitment of trust and estate professionals in Jersey, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Singapore. Before 2009, good candidates would find a new employer. Organisations reacted to the influx of new business by increasing their headcount. Times as a recruiter were good. Today, however, the global economic conditions have stifled growth for some trust and fiduciary organisations.

The skills required are changing at the same rate as the nature of private client business. Employees must continue their professional development through examination in order to remain credible to employers and clients alike. Those who study advanced qualifications will truly develop their careers. Those who choose not to extend their professional education may find their career options limited and ambitions thwarted.

Aside from the benefits of legal qualifications, those candidates who have decided to study towards accountancy designations have discovered an increase in their demand and, ultimately, their market value. Increasingly, firms in Switzerland and Liechtenstein want to see trust officers, never mind wealth planners, with legal qualifications, preferably common law. Professionally qualified solicitors with credible onshore experience have been highly sought after.

General state of the market

Compared to pre-recession days, the market is smaller. Many firms have left business that cannot be made compliant, and it becomes harder to source new business when mass shrinks. To survive, many firms have taken the option of being acquired by or merged into other organisations. From a recruitment perspective, this means there are fewer firms to deal with.

Banks have suffered since the market problems of 2008, and bank-trust businesses have been seen as guilty by association. In some cases this has led to a turn away from banks towards independent trust companies and family offices. Moreover, the level of trust that was once given to banks has been eroded over the past few years, with high-net-worth individuals and clients seeking the organisation that will provide the best and most relevant service for them.

The recruitment process

Recruitment for both candidate and client is still a two-way process. The industry has changed and there are fewer opportunities, while there is a greater number of candidates. However, this does not necessarily lead to an employer-driven market. Both parties need to sell their virtues. Candidates are more nervous when it comes to changing companies in these uncertain times and it is imperative that the potential employer instils the confidence in the candidate to persuade them to take the leap of faith into a new organisation.

On the flip-side, candidates must persuade the potential employer that they are worth investing in and that they have the key tangible and intangible qualities needed.

Final thoughts

It is important, as a recruiter, to understand how changing markets affect recruitment and the service provided to candidates and clients alike. Now that skillsets have changed, from trust officer upwards, the recruiter must understand their client, and the markets the client serves, in order to identify relevant talent. Alongside personality, ability is paramount, and the recruiter will need to be precise in matching both to an organisation.

Cautious optimism is the right mood for the UK, says Paul Avon

It’s probably no surprise that the private client market in the UK is generally characterised as a buyer’s market. To some extent this is correct, as businesses have encountered headwinds over the past few years. The most significant of these  has been the economic uncertainty the UK has faced, particularly in relation to the European crisis. Clients have frequently lacked confidence in further investment, and this has led to fewer new opportunities.

There have been some encouraging signs of late, but until there is confidence in the private client community that the European crisis has played out and the risk of major shocks is significantly reduced, clients on the whole will remain circumspect.

This has also affected candidates’ receptiveness to new opportunities, with many adopting a cautious approach. The better candidates do their due diligence, and rightly so, before embarking on what is often a long and arduous interview process.

This overall picture contrasts with pre-crisis market conditions, where clients had to compete far harder for the best talent. Nowadays, the client’s approach to most recruitment exercises is one of caution and exacting demands. Often the process can take months, with endless interviews, and even then it can be halted at a moment’s notice as another crisis erupts and the client pauses to think.

Bright spots

Of course the private client community is broad, and in a flat landscape there are some bright spots. Probably the most active part of the market is the family office segment, which has remained largely resilient to the global macro-economic problems. London, especially, is seen as one of the most attractive places to establish a family office, thanks to a stable political system, its own sovereign currency, a favourable time zone, and elite business services on tap, particularly in the legal, trust and finance community.

Private client accountants, tax, legal and trust professionals have opportunities in this field, as do those from the private banking, investment, operations and real estate world. Candidates with multi-jurisdictional and cross-border structuring experience are particularly attractive.

However, the barriers to entry are significant. Roles are not advertised and (if the right approach is taken by the recruiter) are not general currency in the market. Recruitment for family offices is often executed on a search basis, so if you get a call from a headhunter it means you are probably considered among the best in the STEP community and you should probably listen to what is being said, even if you have found utopia in your current role.

The mood among most clients is one of cautious optimism, which heralds a brighter outlook over the next 12 months. I believe there is pent-up demand and I detect a strong desire from clients to move forward with recruitment projects. The mood is slowly changing and, if we can sustain a period of calm, a very different picture will emerge.

Opportunities in the UAE, assessed by Richard McLerie

There is definitely a feeling of optimism again in the UAE. This stands in contrast to the gloom of the financial crash of 2008. Many of the large developers have recovered from the downturn, and banks are returning to profit.

In a country where there is no income tax and 90 per cent of the population are expatriates, it should follow that private client work will be on the rise. However, little work is carried out by law firms, so it is rare to see private client roles in the market. In the UAE, financial consultants carry out much of the work normally undertaken by qualified lawyers in markets such as the UK.

The UAE used to be a place where expats came for two to three years, but now, with the uncertainty in the world and the UAE being a desirable place to live, many are staying longer, buying property and looking to protect their wealth. It is estimated that more than 240,000 UK expats are living in the UAE, and although there is an abundance of UK law firms operating there, few concentrate on the private client side. A handful of locally incorporated firms offer this service, as do a few international and offshore firms.

With expats staying in the UAE longer, and the government tightening regulations controlling who can provide legal services, I predict that recruitment levels of private client lawyers will increase in the years to come.

Author block
Richard Mclerie, Paul Avon and Dominic Thatcher

Richard Mclerie is General Manager of JLegal UAE, Paul Avon is Director at AP Executive and Dominic Thatcher is Director of ThatcherMacKenzie Executive Recruitment.

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