New Year, not much in the way of hiring

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In any normal year, January is synonymous with two things: new hiring budgets and widespread defections as bankers at US houses express dissatisfaction with their bonuses. This year, however, neither thing is coming to pass.

Not only have hiring budgets at many houses still not been finalized, but the lack of alternatives on offer means that even recipients of miniscule bonuses are unlikely to leave in a harrumph.

Heads of HR at two banks say staff turnover this quarter is likely to fall from 15-20% in any normal year, to something closer to 5%. "The really exceptional people will continue to look elsewhere," says one. "You also might get a few people who decide to call it a day and go and do something else with their lives."

Some banks have declared their strategies for the coming months. UBS, for example, is expected to focus on core client focused businesses like equities and Commerzbank plans to develop its presence in foreign exchange, electronic trading and equity derivatives.

However, uncertainty, redundancies and the need to integrate acquisitions mean most hiring budgets remain on hold.

"The strategy has been agreed, but not yet communicated," says the head of HR at one European investment bank. "Budgets haven't been signed off, but they have been discussed - we're just going through the formalities at this stage."

She says there will be some hiring soon. "There was a lot that was deferred from 2009 while people waited to see how bad things were, so there are slots to fill and we will be hiring strategically."

Recruiters and headhunters confirm it's all a bit quiet still. "Instead of planning hiring for 2009, most financial institutions spent the latter part of 2008 sorting out issues related to the credit markets," says Peter Harwood at Principal Search.

"No one knows what's going on yet, but then the City is still half empty after Christmas," says Logan Naidu at The Cornell Partnership.

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