The current wave of consolidation sweeping the financial services industry is making this an increasingly frequent question. For some, the search consultants and headhunters, it is a very profitable question. For the rest, the employees, the question is more complicated.
One search consultant suggests that in many cases there is not much to be done but to sit out the integration process and hope for the best. His advice is simple: 'Be politically adept and indispensable. It's very tough. Your survival in the merger depends on what the game plan is and where that comes from, whether you have the right set of skills and whether your face fits.'
Political adroitness cannot be developed overnight, nor is it realistic to expect to become indispensable after the merger has been announced. Surviving a merger is in many respects predicated on what the employee has done prior to the merger. This tends to create a sense of fatalism among the workforce as it waits for information on its future. Or, as one fund manager and survivor of two takeovers says: 'From the time the takeover was announced to completion, it was terrible to see what people did: bugger all, just waiting for their packages. If you wanted to keep your skills up, contacts or even self-respect, then you'd want to do your job.' Through all the uncertainty, for some it is important to keep plugging away, as much as possible, with business as usual.
Just doing your job though can be tricky. 'It's difficult to do business. Any fund management company, or similar, even if it's going to survive intact, will put its product development on hold. Morale definitely suffers because you are not making the sales. And whatever happens there will be a strategic review. One of the important things you can do is to keep the existing clients informed of what's going on.'
The timely distribution of information is probably the cornerstone of a successful post-merger integration process, from all perspectives. On the employee's side, a fund manager says: 'People feared for their jobs and felt threatened, others saw it as an opportunity whatever, the calls went out to the headhunters and there was a lot of gossip round the water-cooler. If you want to keep someone, you've got to look after them and keep them informed. If you are good and the company's not clear about its intentions, then you owe it to yourself to look around.'
A senior chief investment officer at a recently merged fund management house acknowledges this. 'There's a huge premium for the employer in just getting on with it. Right at the beginning everyone gets their CV in order and looks at the options. The longer the merger process goes on, the more the fallout.' He reasons that if you take a long time in telling someone that the coveted top job is not for them, then they are unlikely to be happy with the number two spot, if they have had plenty of time to look around. He says: 'One of the things that's important is to set out a schedule and to give a set of deadlines, where people at each level will know where they are. You have to communicate it and it needs a lot of touchy-feely to give people the impression that they are being informed.'
In most mergers, however, where the companies have a complementary fit, the winners in the selection game will have been chosen as 'best of breed'. In finance, that often boils down to the numbers. How well have you performed? The crutch of a good client relationship is no use - if your performance is lousy, then you have no legs, says one chief investment officer. Be the best at what you do and you will always survive.