As M&A deals return, banks want to switch up their associates and VPs

As we reported last week, Goldman Sachs is not short of applicants to its vacancy for a London investment banking analyst. Last time we looked, over 1,000 people had applied.

 Recruiters say they’re not surprised. The market is awash with candidates, and as M&A dealmaking makes a tentative comeback, they say it’s not the most junior staff who are hard to find. 2024 is all about unearthing the best mid-career players.

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“There’s a lot more hiring than last year, says Brianne Sterling, head of investment banking at recruitment firm Selby Jennings in New York. “Banks are looking for experienced associates and for VPs one and two,” she adds. “That’s the level where there’s a lot less talent because people have either left banking or gone to the buy-side.”

Statistics on publicly announced hires and departures among M&A bankers globally from data firm Talnt confirm that compared to 2023 people are moving jobs much more frequently. In the first two months of 2024, Talnt tracked 55 M&A moves globally. Using comparable methods in 2024, it tracked over 400. Those 400 include job cuts at the likes of Nomura, but hey – changing jobs might be back in fashion. 

Some of this year’s post-bonus M&A hires are already resurfacing. Mark Glotfelty has just arrived at RBC Capital Markets in New York after over 25 years with Goldman Sachs. UBS hired technology banker Dmitry Kokhanov, from Barclays for its San Francisco office. Sterling says M&A bankers were paid down 10-15%, are unhappy and would move for the right alternative. Anecdotally, bonuses were down more at some banks than others: some of the loudest complainants seem to be at Citi and Bank of America. 

To the extent that M&A hiring is back, Tom Ragland at recruitment firm Harrison-Rush Group say it’s most robust in middle market firms and boutiques. “It’s better than it was, but it’s not going gangbusters. For March, it’s definitely low,” he says of recruitment. Is hiring on a par with 2019? “No.”

After exits last year, some firms still have senior level holes – intentional or otherwise. Search firm Sheffield Haworth, which tracks managing director (MDs) moves in the US market, says Barclays lost 41 banking managing directors to competitors last year and hired only 25 to replace them. It puts Goldman’s 2023 MD losses at 18 and its hires at zero. Citi’s MD losses are estimated at 13 and hires at five. By comparison, banks like Santander, Wells Fargo, Jefferies and UBS, spent 2023 accumulating new MDs. If deals return, the depleted banks may turn first to hiring. For the moment, though, MD hiring is quiet. “We thought it would be busier than it is,” admits one headhunter operating at this level. He’s hopeful for the second quarter 

Sterling says it’s mostly one in and one out at associate and VP level, where banks want to swap existing mid-ranking talent for something better. For this reason, she says banks are very twitchy about the caliber of the candidates they’re hiring now. Multiple rounds of interviews and technical tests have become the norm. Years of deal drought have deskilled the M&A workforce, and no wants to hire a dud. “Associates today have been less exposed to multiple deals at one time and have often relied more closely on templates for non-complex deals,” says Sterling. “Ideally banks want to get rid of the bottom 10% of performers and bring on the top 10% from somewhere else.”

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