Business Today

Finance jobs are back

The first and worst hit by the downturn, the financial services sector has started to grow and hire. Healthcare, IT and ITES also get into the hiring mode.

Rachna M. Koppikar & Rahul Sachit Anand        Print Edition: November 1, 2009

  • Last fortnight, Tata Capital announced plans to scale up its Consumer Finance and Advisory Business (CFAB) by covering 71 cities through a chain of over 100 branch offices by December 2009. It has already hired 400 graduates as customer relationship executives for the branches and will add 200 before December.
  • L&T Finance, the infrastructure major’s finance arm, which recently bought DBS Chola Mutual Fund, has hired close to 700 people from rural areas for its microfinance venture that has three lakh borrowers under its fold. It is also selectively recruiting talent at middle level, says L&T’s Executive VP N. Sivaraman.
  • Kotak Mahindra Group has hired around 100 people at the front end over the last month. A little over one year ago, hiring 500 a month for the same profile was the norm. The firm still maintains a cautious stance and is not getting into hiring at the mass level.

After a chilling spell of freezes and lay-offs, hiring is warming up in financial services. Not so long ago, brokerages, investment banks, mutual funds and insurance companies were busy pulling down shutters of their branches, sacking people and cutting salaries. But there could be a trend reversal soon. BT-TeamLease Employment Outlook Survey for October-December 2009 reveals that a majority of financial services firms surveyed (it considered entities listed on BSE only) intends to increase the headcount over the next three months. Says Sonal Agrawal, Chief Executive, Accord Group (India): “It’s a jobs comeback of sorts. Most companies are hiring selectively, cautiously and mostly in small numbers.”

Most placement firms and recruiters BT spoke to were of the opinion that the worst was behind them. A lot of activity is taking place in financial services: I-banking, asset management, private equity, insurance are all in hiring mode. Not aggressively so, but hiring decisions are being made. For instance, Tata Capital has hired in volumes for CFAB, but is selective in hiring for its Investment Banking and Private Equity business. “This is the first phase of our expansion and we have made a conscious effort to hire freshers and professionals with up to four years of experience. The new workforce will be trained to undertake multi-product retail selling,” says Amar Sinhji, HR Head, Tata Capital.

The hiring is more evident and in large numbers amongst the new players, who are in the process of setting up teams. Firms like Axis Bank (which has just got an approval to launch a mutual fund) and ASK Group, which is awaiting SEBI’s approval for launching a mutual fund business, could get into hiring mode once their plans get rolling.

Sameer Kamdar, CEO of the proposed AMC at the ASK Group, says that once it gets in-principle approval, close to 40-50 people will be hired across functions—sales and marketing, investment management, operations and legal. His group has also been hiring staff for its Private Equity, Real Estate Advisory and Wealth Management businesses.

Creation of new jobs in insurance continues; the sector has remained the least-affected among BFSIs in the aftermath of the financial meltdown. Recently, HDFC Standard Life has hired 150 graduates for frontline sales division. While it has also expanded its investment management team from 12 to 16, Sharad Gangal, GM (HR), says: “We are keeping a close watch on the market conditions for the next 2-3 months before considering fresh recruitments.”

Sure enough, the galloping stock market is largely responsible for the optimism in the job market across sectors. But it has brought one segment back in the hiring game big time: the brokerages, as the daily average trading volumes on National Stock Exchange (NSE) have almost doubled from Rs 9,559 crore in January 2009 to Rs 18,250 crore in September 2009.

“The mood has certainly changed from a high level of pessimism to optimism and the business has also picked up,” says Motilal Oswal, CMD, Motilal Oswal Financial Services. His firm has recently bought a 75,000 sq. ft, six-storeyed property in Worli, Mumbai, to centralise its operations and plans to increase its headcount in the broking business during this quarter.

Similarly, Antique Finance, which started to expand its presence in institutional broking, research and investment banking in 2008, has hired over 60 professionals for these businesses in the past year. “We had the benefit of hiring these talented professionals at a time when markets were bearish and the broking industry was grappling with excess staff issues,” says Kirti Doshi, Director, Antique Finance. By the end of this year, his firm plans to add 25 professionals across its high networth desk, compliance and investment banking teams.

HDFC Securities is that rare entity among brokerage houses that could continue with its ramp-up during the downturn. From 15 branches in the beginning of 2008, it now has 60 branches. The company added around 190 professionals for branch expansion as well as for new financial services such as third party distribution of funds and insurance and wealth management at a time when its peers were retrenching staff. “Expanding our presence during the last year certainly helped us grow faster as professionals looked out for stable organisations rather than just a salary hike,” says Aseem Dhru, MD & CEO, HDFC Securities.

His firm plans to increase the branch network to 100 by March next year and will hire 150 professionals, including senior level managers, to manage the branch network.

However, headhunters say that it could be too early to conclude jobs are being created in large numbers. “Till last year, the finance firms had frozen plans to hire more people or in some cases, even the replacement hiring was put on hold. Now what has really picked up is the filling up of vacant positions,” says Hitesh Oberoi, COO, Naukri.com, the largest job portal. It could take another 3-4 months for finance firms to start increasing the headcount in numbers, he adds.

Agrees Makarand Khatavkar, HR Head for Deutsche Bank. His take on hiring is that investment banks are largely filling vacant positions. “As market sentiments improve, investment banks are augmenting talent pools. But a massive uptick in the job market will not happen simply because of some buoyancy in the economy,” he says.

On a Wing and a Prayer
The rest of the sectors will vouch for Khatavkar’s observation. These sectors continue with their small spikes (IT & ITES) and in some cases steep falls (retail, telecom, manufacturing & engineering), keeping the overall employment prospects flat (see The Breakdown). While the sentiment has turned positive and so have hiring intentions for some sectors, actual hiring will pick up momentum gradually. One market hiccup and hiring intentions could well disappear for another couple of quarters.

Among the sectors surveyed, IT, ITES and healthcare are firmly on the recovery path. Companies are slowly beginning to rekindle their hiring plans, initially focussing on filling up existing vacancies, then moving on to mid rung talent and even hunting for senior managers to run entire business units. Semiconductor companies, which had frozen recruitments across the board, are now beginning to thaw their hiring plans.

For example, semiconductor firm Xilinx has revived its hiring plans since June this year and will add 75 people by March 2010. “There is a broad requirement for integrated chip design, IP core and solutions development, software development and systems and applications development,” says Vamsi Bopanna, CTO, Xilinx India.

Despite these numbers, HR consultants and headhunters aren’t optimistic about mass or entry-level hiring in the IT sector. “The employment outlook is bearish at the fresher level,” says Anish Singh, Chief Executive, Techbridge Networks, a Bangalore-based HR consultancy. “Most hiring is at mid-range (4-9 years) and in areas such as tech support, maintenance and QA (quality assurance), rather than core R&D,” he argues.

However, in emerging sectors such as mobile and mobile payments, there is a scramble for talent, as companies look to set up and expand their capability in this market. “The mobile payment services industry is touted to be the next growth engine both in India and other emerging markets,” says Dilip Nagaraja, who has joined as Executive Vice President (Global Engineering), Obopay, over a month ago, after working at Intuit.

The country’s largest software exporter, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which recently announced plans to go back to salary hikes and promotions, is slowly, but surely, opening the recruitment tap. Says Ajoy Mukherjee, VP & Head (Global HR), TCS: “There is a demand for people with niche high-end technofunctional skills across experience bands—enterprise solutions, IT infrastructure and BPO.”

Even as technology companies slowly roll out their hiring plans, the pace of recruitment may actually be driven by the relatively recession-proof healthcare industry. For example, Biocon plans to recruit at least 425 people across all its group companies, covering a diverse range of roles. “The job market in the Indian pharma/biotech industry has remained competitive and the impact of the global slowdown has been less severe,” says Ravi Dasgupta, HR Head, Biocon.

Among cities, Hyderabad is the new city of joy. It seems to have gotten rid of the spectre of Satyam scandal. The hiring intentions have surpassed expectations in the city, with a rise of 43 index points to 76 per cent. “Hyderabad, along with Andhra, definitely looks better in comparison to some of the other agri states in the country,” says A. Vellayan, Vice Chairman of the Chennai-based Murugappa Group. Its major group company, Coromandel, is based out of Hyderabad.

Pharma, a sector the region is known for, also seems upbeat. Says Rajeev Nannapaneni, COO, Natco Pharma, one of the six companies in the country that have got the licence to manufacture the generic version of Tamiflu to deal with H1N1: “We have a total employee strength of around 2,000 people and we hope to add about 10 per cent his year.”

According to Surabhi Mathur-Gandhi, General Manager, TeamLease Services: “The employment outlook for the current quarter maintains its cautious optimism. We expect to see some additional increase in hiring in Q4 (January-March 2010). The industry is overall upbeat about the business and this will translate into improved hiring in the next six months.”

Additional reporting by E. Kumar Sharma

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