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Oakleaf Partnership Market Insight – Financial and Professional Services – January 2021

Written by: Oakleaf
Published on: 26 Jan 2021

Oakleaf Partnership Market Insight – Financial and Professional Services – January 2021

An Overview of the Broader HR Market

Given how 2021 has started I think we can squeeze in a last toast to the new year – wishing everyone the strength and support we will need to battle on! It is nearly 2 months since we last shared Oakleaf’s Market Insight series and, needless to say, there has been considerable change over that period. We reported on the constant flux and difficulty in planning throughout last year and understandably there is no change on the horizon as far as that is concerned.

We continued to see a slow and steady improvement week on week as the last calendar year came to a close. We have still been keeping a very close eye on the HR job market as a whole and although Oakleaf’s job numbers continued to rise in December, you can see in the graph below that the usual reduction in hiring over the festive season did materialise.

(Source: Vacancysoft)

The bounce in new jobs since we returned in January is fantastic news! With so many of the working population hamstrung with the trials and tribulations of home schooling and additional lockdown challenges, we were concerned how well activity in the job market would restart. We are delighted to show you that it has restarted well. It is exciting to be able to be optimistic and we must be just that!

There is every chance (this the realist in me talking) that we will all be experiencing some form of socio-economic restrictions for the first half of this year. We can in the most part at least see some light at the end of the tunnel now and without wanting to sound too hasty we get a real sense that organisations are beginning to respond and increase levels of activity. In the last fortnight we have seen increased numbers of roles across the talent specialism – talent acquisition, pure talent and learning roles. We have also seen less replacement hires and more new sign offs which is a great indicator. Let’s hope this continues…

We begin the series with updates from Lauren Hewlett from HR into financial services and Sarah Alexander from the professions.


Financial Services

Having returned to work after what was a well-deserved rest from a challenging year, it remains to be seen what lockdown 3.0 will bring to the HR Financial Services market. The run up to Christmas was a familiar tale of previous years. Our customers began to wind down and conclude hiring processes, meaning that December felt slightly quieter with new vacancies.

Despite the further Covid-19 restrictions that were imminent, we had some interesting conversations with financial services organisations who seemed confident and positive that their scheduled hiring plans would go full steam ahead in 2021. We had several discussions with Heads of HR and Recruitment, around what immediate needs they could foresee and were encouraged to hear that there would be future requirements for specialist roles such as OD, Talent Development, Change and Transformation. These are all areas of HR that we have seen a decrease in new vacancies this year, which shows the market is moving in the right direction.

(Source: Vacancysoft)

In the broader financial services HR market, the number of directly advertised opportunities remains high, especially across the banking sector and the larger matrix organisations who have robust, internal talent acquisition teams. It is encouraging to see the banking sector actively hiring, it usually indicates an optimistic rise in employment in other financial sectors.

To give a bit more colour:

  • Many boutique to mid-sized FS firms were relatively unaffected in general hiring volumes over the past few months and we have seen an increase in new (additional) HR hires.
  • Talent Development is moving to centre stage, with a focus on remote learning capability but also looking at talent holistically including diversity and inclusion, culture and wellbeing.
  • Candidates are generally looking to work for businesses that have spent the past months productively assessing their working patterns, wellbeing support and long-term opportunities for employees. Many would consider it a deal breaker if there is not a flexible office hours policy when we eventually start shuffling into the City again.
  • The vast majority of our new roles have been interim, with companies looking to hire permanent positions in-house. As we settle into the first few weeks of January, it seems to be a sign of the times that HR divisions need to spend their interim budgets by the end of the financial year.
  • Our team who specialise within the junior to mid-level HR markets, saw the majority of their initial job volumes in HR Advisor and junior HRBP level roles. However, from mid-December, we have seen a rise in support level coordination roles across Learning & Development and Recruitment.
  • Amongst senior level hires, we have seen a shift in the job market since October from being FTC-heavy to a rise in interim day rate positions. Companies were focused on committing to longer term contracts, such as maternity covers (mostly with generalist HRBP and Head of contracts) and there were very little short-term project roles. However, the larger corporates seem to be opening their virtual doors, requiring interim specialists once again.
  • Talent Acquisition has picked up again at all levels, roles are delivery focused as hiring plans are confirmed for 2021.

Even during such uncertain times, candidates are still open to considering new opportunities when in an active contract placement or permanent role. “The fear of job security doesn’t seem as apparent now”. This is a positive shift in the mindset of the job seeker and could result in increased market movement in the next 6 months.  It is most certainly a candidate led market and as such, there are a higher number of people, readily available, who are flexing on their desired rates, level of role and industry.

Looking ahead, it is more important now than ever that the HR industry remains supportive, innovative and continues to provoke business thought and engagement. The financial services industry is now in a position between recovering from COVID-19’s impact and transforming operations to power success in the years ahead.

My team and I are optimistic about what is in store and will continue to serve as a dedicated partner to our customers in the coming months that will inevitably be challenging.


Professional Services

In October 2020 I wrote about conflicting feelings generated by observing the ‘creeping numbers of the C-19 second wave’ and at the same time, seeing the green shoots of recovery in the Professional Services HR market. I don’t think any of us imagined that we would be where we are now, in terms of the evolution of the pandemic. It’s scary, and lockdown seems to get tougher each time, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the vaccine(s).

Happily, I was right about the market providing a reason to be cheerful. Since I last wrote, we have registered exactly double the number of vacancies than in the three months prior to October and have placed double the number of HR professionals into exciting, and in some cases newly created, roles.  In terms of the broader market, the number of directly advertised opportunities grew, for a second quarter running, by 150%.

(Source: Vacancysoft)

In more detail:

  • The run up to Christmas was busy, with activity across all of our core markets: legal, consultancy, accountancy and property – not one left behind.
  • We have started to see a return of recruitment roles, both supporting lateral / experienced hiring and across the early careers space.  As someone who has recruited through previous recessions, seeing firms recruiting recruiters is for me a hugely positive sign. We are hearing from our in-house recruitment network that as the taps are being turned back on, roles and remits are getting busier and broader. Cost management is still of course a huge priority, but that is actually creating roles for in-house recruiters as direct sourcing models are implemented, restructures are undertaken and embedding new, digitally focused ways of recruiting is taking centre stage. Firms are also creating roles for recruiters where volumes have increased so much that skeleton teams who managed through 2020 are in need of support.
  • Learning and talent continue to be focus areas. Firms have learnt from previous years and have not automatically cancelled or removed talent and development programmes, in fact as their employees need more support than ever, creativity in this area is highly valued.
  • The Covid baby wave seems to be kicking in….! We are, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, managing more interim opportunities than permanent. Maternity covers, especially in the HRBP arena, are offering brilliant opportunities for immediately available candidates to get back into the market on long term contracts.
  • Options for junior talent remain varied and good quality. Whilst a number of hires are made on an FTC to perm basis, and the overall competitiveness of this corner of the market is still very high, there are firms investing in great opportunities for those starting their careers.
  • Senior, and strategically driven, hires are also now starting to return. Confidence in the overall market is translating into top talent putting their head above the parapet and re-igniting the attrition / hiring cycle. In addition, with people strategies and their effective delivery being given such a huge, spotlit platform in 2020, firms are designing and signing off new leadership roles to ensure continued growth and development of HR agendas into 2021.

Initial fears that current lockdown may drive a slowdown in all the above momentum seem to have, for the moment, not been realised. Whilst the changeable nature of everything currently does mean that the market is sensitive, and long-range forecasts tricky, my team and our clients have most definitely turned a corner.