Transaction banking gains allure as opportunities abound

By:
Rebecca Brace
Published on:

A career in transaction banking used to be viewed as a less attractive option than moving into an investment banking role, but with investment banking falling out of favour during the financial crisis, the appeal of this career path has been somewhat tarnished.

At the same time, corporate treasury has become a higher-profile discipline within the organization – a trend which has, in turn, boosted the profile of transaction banking and the opportunities that can be found in this area.

“The candidate of old had a preference to work in the more exciting area of investment banking, because the products are more complex and continually evolving,” says Peter Milne, director of banking and financial services recruitment at Robert Walters.

“Now there are fewer opportunities, fewer new products coming to market, and the big proprietary activities of investment banks are far narrower.”

Meanwhile, opportunities in transaction banking are on the increase. Job vacancies in banking and the financial services increased substantially in the third quarter of this year, according to the latest Robert Walters European Job Index.

Published last week, the research found the number of vacancies in the sector increased by 20% between the second and third quarter. In London and the southeast, the increase was even greater, with vacancies up by 33% in the same period.

This increase is being driven by a number of factors, according to Milne. “Firstly we have a renewed confidence in the market place, which has a knock-on effect on people’s willingness to hire,” he says.

“There is also an element of pent-up frustration. Clients we work with have been running so lean for so long, but as banks move into a more positive position they are seeing the need to hire new talent to support growth.”

He adds that the regulatory changes in the pipeline are also inevitably contributing to the growth in hiring.

Transaction banking is one of the areas in which hiring levels are increasing. According to Milne, there is an increasing demand for relationship bankers, as well as for people that have come from treasury and cash-management backgrounds. This has translated into an increase in hiring by a number of leading banks, many of which have been less active in the past couple of years.

As activity increases, some banks are beginning to report an increase in candidates making the move from investment banking to transaction banking.

“We are seeing increasing numbers of employees from investment banking showing a genuine interest in furthering their careers in transaction banking,” says Heather Barr, head of HR for global transaction banking at Deutsche Bank.

“The qualities they bring are highly complementary to the traditional transaction banking skill-set and strengthen our drive to continue providing for our clients service excellence, value-added solutions and access to the broader bank.”

However, despite the shrinking availability of opportunities in investment banking, and more opportunities in transaction banking, there are some obstacles standing in the way of investment bankers making the move over to transaction banking.

For one thing, transaction-banking salaries continue to lag behind. Recruiters report that a transaction banking managing director can expect to earn up to £450,000, compared with the equivalent role in investment banking which could earn up to £500,000.

There is some indication the gap is shrinking – and it might narrow further, with some banks looking to combine their investment-banking and transaction-banking human resources departments.

At the same time, the most commercially innovative transaction bankers are getting paid a premium compared with the market, according to Michael King, head of the transaction banking practice at Magnus Walker and former global director of Swift.

King also says he is seeing a jump in pay in the compliance space of transaction banking, as the skills pool is limited in this area. However, there are other factors hindering movement between transaction banking and investment banking.

“Transaction banking is a specialist area and requires a deep domain understanding – therefore the attraction of investment bankers, despite the increase in their availability, isn't perceived as high,” says King.

Some other trends are characterizing the recruitment market. Milne says he is seeing an increase in buy backs – in other words, offers made by employers to retain staff who are planning to leave the bank and join a competitor.

“For the last few years, if someone resigned, that was simply one less job for the bank to worry about in terms of headcount and costs,” says Milne. “This year, we have found that candidates who have found new jobs are often seeing their existing employer making a counter offer in order to try to retain their staff.”

In addition, as transaction banking evolves, the types of skills that banks look for is also changing. King notes that for many corporations, information is now as critical as payments.

As a result, transaction banks are leveraging technology to secure data, mine customer data across multiple databases and deliver data alongside dollars – thereby helping corporate clients to speed up reconciliation times and reduce the associate costs.