Friday, November 21, 2008

Impact of Recession on Search Firms – Singapore context

Disclaimer: This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer - Joe Neitham
Economic slow down, Financial Tsunami, down turn, recession, call it what you like but we seems to be heading for a definite period of persistent rise in uncertainties in the days ahead. We are experiencing what some would even call the worst recession since the Great Depression and the similarities between the Great Depression and the current recession aka Credit Crunch recession are very similar. Much like the credit crunch today, the Great Depression began with a stock market crash and the eventual meltdown of the financial system. The bad news for us is that the current recession is not over yet by anyone’s imagination and the longer the recession prolonged the closer we are to a state of deep and painful depression.

From recruitment perspective, recession does have direct consequences on recruitment plans and the severity of the recession dictates the surge or decline in recruitment activities. We are today probably experiencing the half way point of recession as it is expected to prolong till 2013 as seen from surveys around the globe.

As such, measures taken by different organisation across varied industry, in preparation for the bad times to come, ranges from the mild to the drastic – pay cut, hiring freeze, lay offs and retrenchment are the buzz words today.

Here at home in Singapore we’ve seen and heard of organisation such as CLSA resorting to pay cuts in order to avoid retrenching their staff and in most financial institutions we are seeing hiring freeze (at least in most part of the business) as the norm of the day such as JPMorgan, Credit Suisse, Standard Chartered Bank, etc. Retrenchment as the last resort is underway at DBS (Nov 14, 2008 The Straits Times), Citibank (Nov 19, 2008 Biz Times), HSBC (Wall Street Journal - Nov 17, 2008), Merrill Lynch (Oct 22, 2008 The Straits Times), UBS (Oct 22, 2008 The Straits Times), Standard Chartered Bank (Oct 29, 2008 The Straits Times). I have a feeling that we’ve not seen the last of such retrenchment activities in the banks as mentioned above and some of these banks will continue the next round of lay offs soon if not in the immediate future.

Outside of banks, some of the organisation that has taken lay offs route are Motorola, Nokia, GAP, NOL, AIA, IM Flash Tech., YKK, Allied Technologies Ltd. The list is expected to grow as many organisation need to resort to trimming their staff strength in order to sustain.

In the midst of all the doom and glooms around it is still heartening to know that organisations here such as Singtel and NTUC are declaring not to resort to lay offs, while banks like Barclays,
Standard Chartered bank, and ANZ are still hiring actively if not aggressively.

Types of search firms
The past few days I’ve been meeting up with few recruitment consultants and I guess their interpretation of the current recruitment scene varies from one to the other and that’s purely because of the space in which they operate. Typically we have the following types of search firms here in Singapore –

Executive Search Firms: These are the true search firms where they only take on retained search. Typical search firm will have a strong Research team with strong market mapping capabilities and they do not have any particular industry that they limit themselves to but on roles – only senior management level. Some of the leading search firms in Singapore are -
· Egon Zehnder

· Spencer Stuart

· Amrop Hever Group

· Heidrick & Struggles

· Russell Reynolds

Recruitment Consulting Firms (Hybrid – Contingency/Retainer): These are firms that are strong on contingency however most will also take on 10%-20% retainer jobs. Consultants here are strong on end-to-end consulting and 2-5 consultants will share 1-3 researcher (only name generation and market mapping) and in some cases resourcers (Identify and shortlist candidates – email/phone/face-to-face). Focus on middle to senior level candidates. Some of them are -
· Talent2

· Hudson

· Robert Walters

· Derwent

· Korn Ferry

Recruitment Agency (Contingency - Contract/Perm): These are agencies that are typically focused on verticals and most of them are in Information Technology. Traditionally they only do contracting where they outsource engineers to client site and manage their payrolls. Lately, few of these agencies do not wish to miss out on the lucrative contingency business so they have dedicated consultants that only do permanent placements. In such places, often they will have dedicated Sales/Business Development (client facing) team that are supported by strong Resourcers in the back office. Some of the leading agencies are –
· A-IT

· Optimum

· Comtel

· Emerio

Trends in recruitment process

Recruitment Outsourcing:
In the past 2 years alone we have seen a rapid growth in recruitment outsourcing, also known as HRO(Human Resource Outsourcing), RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing), TAM (Talent Acquisition Management), etc and basically to quote the Recruitment Process Outsourcing Association
, "Recruitment Process Outsourcing is when a provider acts as a company's internal recruitment function for a portion or all of its jobs. RPO providers manage the entire recruiting/hiring process from job profiling through the on-boarding of the new hire, including staff, technology, method and reporting. A properly managed RPO will improve a company's time to hire, increase the quality of the candidate pool, provide verifiable metrics, reduce cost and improve governmental compliance.”
Some of the organisation that are outsourcing their recruitment functions in Singapore are –
· Credit Suisse to Alexander Mann Solutions

· Barclays to Resource Solutions/Robert Walters -

· Deutsche bank to Alexander Mann Solutions
· UBS to Talent2

· Merrill Lynch to Talent2

Corporate/In-house Recruiters:
For sometime now we’ve had HR folks taking on recruitment as a sub function and unfortunately these does not work well when you are recruiting in volumes. Some of the banks in Singapore that are increasingly relying on in-house recruiters are – ANZ, JPMorgan, Standard Chartered Bank, RBS, etc. Most of these in-house recruiters are from search background with many years of end-to-end recruitment experience under their belts. Obviously, they know what they are doing and they will definitely give some their vendors a run for their money.

Talent management solutions:
Most of the big banks here these days have implemented Talent management solutions in the recruitment process. Some of the leading solutions that are in used here are -
· Taleo (Clients: ANZ, Credit Suisse, JPMC),
· Brassring (Client: UBS),
· Recruitmax (Client: Barclays),
· JobsDB Dimension (Client: SCB).

Preferred Supplier Panel:
Gone are the days when banks will utilise the services of any and every recruitment firms out there. These days’ banks are more selective with whom they want to associate themselves and whose service they would like to avail. Thus was born the Preferred Supplier List or Panel, where out of maybe 70-90 firms only 10-20 are short listed to be included in the panel. Every in-house recruiter as well as the hiring managers is generally mandate to only use those agencies that are in the list.

Banks that uses Talent Management Solutions invariably will have their preferred supplier list and the system will not allow you to submit resumes if you are not in the panel as a registered user.

The future of recruitment industry
As more and more organisation engage on developing their own in-house resource capabilities their focus then will be to hire directly and reduce dependencies on headhunters/recruitment agencies in the long run. Today many in-house recruiters are well equipped and trained on direct sourcing through different mediums for both active and passive candidates – Networking tools(LinkedIn, Facebook, Zoominfo etc), Job site Database search (eFinancialcareers, Monster, etc), Googling (using Boolean strings), etc. What this translates to is substantial lost of requirements for recruitment agencies. The future of recruitment industry therefore will be decided by those firms/agencies that are willing to evolve and adapt to the changing demands of the industry. Added to this, recession will result in the number of jobs being drastically reduced and everyone therefore will be forced to fight for the few jobs that are available and survival will very much depend on getting those few available jobs from the client and filling them.

- Agencies will have reduced job sheets: Fewer jobs due to recession and those that remains most of them will be filled by in-house recruiters. Only hard-to-fill niche or senior roles will be given to agencies.
- Agency to focus on building strong search capabilities: To fill those hard-to-fill niche or senior roles agencies must equip themselves with strong search capability to beat the fierce competition and stand out from the rest.
- Smaller/boutique agencies driven out of business: In the interim smaller agencies who are without any serious requirements will be left out, eventually they will have to close shop due to lack of funds. However, those smaller agencies that are focus on contracting with more than 50 contractors will survive at least for the period when the contract still runs.
- Only the big boys with strong capital reserves will survive: The big Recruitment Consulting firms with diverse portfolio will survive and ride out this rough patch as they are not dependent only on few particular clients in particular industry/sector.
- Strong relationship + strong delivery capability will thrive: In the end, it all boils down to the depth of ones relationship with clients because relationship will help in requirements coming to you. However, relationship alone does not suffice and what will set a survivor apart from the rest will be the strength in their delivery capability – high percentage of successful job filled against number of jobs.

Is your firm geared up and prepared for the long haul and ready to ride out the recession? What plans of actions are being put in place not only to survive but excel in these challenging times?

Should the negative trends continue for the next two quarters number of consultants will find themselves in the deficit from which recovery will be a difficult task. I believe that this will eventually result in many consultants losing their jobs sometime during the end of 2nd and beginning of 3rd quarter of 2009 and many cowboy agencies will also be force out of business. So how each companies responds to these new economic conditions will ultimately “separate the wheat from the chaff”.

On the bright side, experience and big billing consultants will not only survive but continue to do well and for them pots of gold waits at the rainbow’s end and this is what we know as “survival of the fittest”.

PS: Feel free to share with everyone your thoughts and take on this topic by leaving your comments here or you may write in to me confidentially at neitham(at)gmail(dot)com.

***Happy hunting folks***


SMART said...


I do agree that in todays scenario building relationship is extremely critical. As my experience in the Search space for any Search consultant it is given. Also understanding client organization, Culture,Local market and right support at right time is very very significant and important in todays scenario. Though there is impact of recession on Companies but there is also opportunity in a wider spectrum. So we need to continue building relationship and most importantly Adding value to our clients bring much bigger opportunity

Happy recruiting
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bommareddy said...


I believe recession has huge impact on Recruitment industry. The volume of the business will definetely go down. I wonder how much is the impact on quality (should positive) and profits (negative?).

Also, can you give an idea how much does the Recruitment agencies earn when they find a resource (on Permanant business).


tim afss said...

Generally firms that are under pressure will turn to contract workers. Payroll is one of most companies largest expenses and permanent staff typically make up the bulk of this. What we found in the UK in the years after dotcom bubble burst was the total volume of hiring comes down dramatically, but companies prefer to hire a contractor as its less financial commitment than permanent staff.

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