UK banking vacancies surge to record high in 2021

New jobs in the sector rose 129% from the previous year despite the challenges posed by Covid and Brexit

epaselect epa06354889 A pedestrian walks past the Bank of England in London, Britain, 28 November 2017. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney delivered the Banks Financial Stability Report 28 November.  EPA/ANDY RAIN
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Vacancies in Britain’s banking sector hit a record high in 2021, despite Covid restrictions, general sector underperformance and a lack of resolution over the post-Brexit financial services agreement.

New banking jobs were up 129 per cent last year from 2020, according to global recruiter Morgan McKinley, with JP Morgan the industry’s leading recruiter in London.

However, the fourth quarter of last year resulted in a 5 per cent dip in vacancies on the previous three-month period — the first quarterly drop in new job postings since the start of the pandemic.

“The UK financial services sector entered 2021 with renewed optimism, suggesting that the negative impact of Covid-19 on business had peaked,” said Hakan Enver, UK managing director of Morgan McKinley.

Having put on hold thousands of roles during 2020, companies felt confident in hiring again by opening up vacancies, which resulted in a 129 per cent increase in jobs from the prior year.”

The surge in banking job postings reflects a wider surge in vacancies across all sectors, particularly towards the end of last year, as Britain's labour market improves.

While Britain’s unemployment rate dipped to 4.1 per cent in the three months to the end of November — the lowest level since the start of the coronavirus pandemic — job vacancies surged to a record 1.25 million in the fourth quarter.

British business activity cooled unexpectedly in January to an 11-month low but cost pressures stayed high, with the IHS Markit/CIPS Composite Purchasing Managers' Index at 53.4, compared with 53.6 in December.

The spread of the Omicron coronavirus strain again hit consumer-facing companies and manufacturers said orders grew at their weakest pace for a year, although business and financial services companies reported a quicker rate of expansion.

“Business confidence in the outlook also picked up, driving sustained solid jobs growth,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

JP Morgan led the banking sector's recruitment drive last year, according to Morgan McKinley, with 5,338 vacancies, a 122 per cent rise on the 2,403 jobs posted last year.

NatWest and Nationwide also experienced remarkable recoveries with 287.4 per cent and 202.5 per cent more vacancies, respectively.

UBS was the only bank in the top 20 to record a reduction, posting 4 per cent fewer jobs in 2021 than in 2020.

Professional vacancies for corporate finance specialists experienced the largest growth, with a 165 per cent annual increase in new jobs in 2021 — a sign of the buoyant M&A market.

UK takeover volumes reached their highest level in 14 years, driving a surge in fees for investment bankers, and, in turn, hiring for investment managers, which were up by 129 per cent.

“The last two years have seen changes to the UK deals market in terms of activity contributing to the best year on record for the global mergers and acquisitions market. With this increase in appetite, it was not surprising that there was a rise in demand for corporate finance specialists,” Mr Enver said.

“As finance professionals continue to play a key role in the transformation of the working world driven by mid-cap and challenger banks, audit and tax professionals were highly sought after by employers. Tax departments saw increases in tax compliance and tax risk management, in order to keep a handle on domestic issues, as well as any arising from international expansion.”

London remained the largest region in the UK for new banking vacancies, recording about twice the number of job postings in 2021 compared with a year earlier, showing that Brexit did not usher in a significant movement of finance professionals away from the UK.

In January last year, Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said up to 7,000 financial services jobs were lost because of the UK's exit from the EU.

The 29,000 new London banking jobs published in 2021 represent a 96 per cent increase on 2020, although as a share of overall UK banking vacancies, new jobs in the capital fell by 3.7 percentage points to account for a little more than half of total vacancies.

The largest growth was in Wales, where volumes were up 451 per cent on the year.

Updated: January 24, 2022, 11:32 AM