Well it’s been a long time since I wrote a blog but frankly it’s 12:15 in the evening, I’ve been ill in bed for 3 days and I’m totally bored.  Anyway a few minutes ago I stumbled onto this… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oamGnLC6FYY&feature=youtu.be

Ed Miliband’s new wheeze about banking reforms.  Personally I’m not immune at all to the argument that banking needs reform, it absolutely does.  Not only that but most of my clients (CEO’s and Chairman of banks!) can see there’s a need for reform.  Ed is talking about needing new banks and he’s absolutely right, we do.  Not only do politicians and people see it but so do the City, I won’t go into details but there are lots of people I know trying to make this a reality, market pressures will force it to happen.  Where I start to disagree with Ed is how this should happen.

Frankly the last time a politician has been let loose with a bank it was the Reverend Flowers (also Labour) and look where that got us.  I’m sorry but senior politicians of all hues are simply not up to the task of banking reform.  Firstly they’re all as I’ve said before PPE graduate career politicians with no real world experience whatsoever, I wouldn’t trust half of them to run a raffle let alone a major business or reform of the countries largest industry.  Yes of course the bankers have made a shambles of this but that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Banking and financial services in general make up a HUGE proportion of our economy, if you meddle too much then you risk killing the golden goose.  To all the naysayers who will of course pipe up and say well we don’t need all those rich bankers etc please also spare a thought for the millions of others employed either directly or because of the financial services industry in this country.  I don’t think the cashiers at your local Barclays are your enemy.  Financial services is global, if you change the rules to make things too harsh it’s all too easy for them to relocate elsewhere and frankly with loose regulation and lower taxes elsewhere why wouldn’t you?  

The reform has to be done cautiously, by people who understand the banking world and have no axe to grind.  There are plenty of senior bankers out there who are not looking to profit from the sector anymore but have huge knowledge of global financial markets that we can tap to make judicious reform without cutting our nose off to spite our face.  Sir Win Bischoff for instance would make a great elder statesman to do this (yes I’m aware he is now chairing the FRC)

We have great expertise in this country, it’s a sector we excel in, let’s use that knowledge and tap into it.  Let’s not seek revenge for the catastrophe of the past that can only end in future hurt, let’s make sure we build a sustainable model for the future and in doing so retain the City’s position as the biggest financial services centre on the planet. 


(Also as an aside, I’m not sure promoting easy credit, whether to businesses or to people is the best idea, it is what got us into this mess in the first place!  Yes start ups need funds but often that’s better left to private equity than banks, they’re gambling with their own capital and can take greater risks.  I’m rather pleased the banks are being risk averse for a change! Although I’m sure in the next breath Ed can still mention casino banking…)

5 Steps to Increase Revenue.

So let’s discuss the job centre.  I’m not sure if I’ve posted my thoughts on it before but let me be reasonably clear about it.  It’s bloody awful.  It’s a cesspool of misery and there’s a complete lack of hope and encouragement.  How did the government get it so wrong?  I’m not blaming the staff, though I’m not about to champion them either but basically the job centre might as well be called the ‘sign on’ centre.  This isn’t a rant about benefits either it’s an essential safety net, it’s about how the job centre has become much more about compliance, form filling and dole claiming than it is about getting people into meaningful work.  Now what I don’t want to do is drone on about it’s dreadfulness without putting forth solutions, that would be pointless.  I’ve been giving this some thought and I think there’s some obvious ways to make the whole thing so much better.  

Firstly separate out benefits from the job centre, I don’t mean build a load of new places for you to sign on before being told to go somewhere else to actually find a job, have them in the same place but different employees.  The benefits and signing on side is a compliance function, have a group of staff whose sole job description is to help people fill in the said forms as quickly and efficiently as possible, have them become expert in what people are and aren’t entitled to and have the process quick and efficient so people aren’t wasting their lives filling in a small oak trees worth of paperwork.  

Now onto the most important function, the JOBS.  Firstly the people should be professional recruiters.  Yes I say this as a headhunter.  What they shouldn’t be is a jack of all trades who help with the above mentioned form filling.  Their sole function should be find these people a job.  Now let’s talk about the types of people you’re finding a job for, there is no point whatsover in going here if you’re a professional, read accountant, lawyer etc.  If your job earns you £30k plus, don’t even bother looking in here, it’s not for you, go to Reed, Michael Page, Hays etc, they’re paid far more and incentivised to find you roles.  Go to the job boards, network round old colleagues, you’ll find a role.  

Now if you aren’t in that lucky category of people you should be able to go to the job centre and find a decent reasonably paying job.  The people there should be professionals at what they do so let’s get to my next point, remuneration.  At present, let’s be honest, it’s crap.  I’ve no problem with their basic wage but why on earth are we not having a decent performance related bonus? It should be easy enough, next time you find Joe Bloggs a job you get say £50 extra in your pay packet.  That’s equivalent to one weeks JSA but look how much the government are saving not having Joe on the payroll anymore!  Now, let’s do the maths, £50 per person you find a role for, how tough would it be to find 5 people a week a role?  If you manage it that’s £250 a week extra, potentially a wage rise of 50%.  Think of the calibre of people you can now attract to work in the job centre.  If you’re getting £50 a pop imagine how much more motivated those chaps are going to be to get you into a job pronto.  Now let’s make it even more enticing, if you find someone a job who’s been on benefits long term, let’s say over a year you make £100 or even £150, how much more motivated to these people become to find you a job?  Not only that if it’s quiet and there’s not much happening because they’re incentivised they’ll actually get on the phone and find jobs, they’ll ring back companies who’ve hired recently and see if they have needs for other stuff, they’ll stop simply being reactive and become proactive.  They’ll make damn sure peoples CV’s look good as well, not to mention they’ll advise people how to dress, how to interview and how to behave because their cash depends on it.  

Let’s lose all the nonsense, there are jobs out there, there are unemployed people.  The job centre is awful at best in terms of finding people roles.  Pay some proper rewards to professional people, lose the admin, the form filing and the despondency and it’ll go a long way to getting more people off benefits and into jobs.  

What a fine run of beautiful weather we seem to be having in London.  It’s days like this that make one feel optimistic for the future, the sun is shining, birds singing etc.  Cliched as this is it is true, in purely business terms I am seeing a renewed optimism in the City right now.  Deals seem to be happening, whether it’s acquisitions or mergers or interesting new start ups.  All around me there seems to be fascinating plans afoot, for the first time in a while there seems to be money available and people willing to invest in new projects.  There seems to be more of an energy and bullish mood about that I haven’t seen for a while.  Now this could of course just be my own perception from my own reasonably narrow focus but recruitment does tend to be a bellwether for the economy.  If the City is starting to pick up this can only be good news for the UK economy as a whole one would have thought?   While I can’t talk about specific roles or deals I’m involved in I can say it’s a very exciting time right now to be working.  

What are other peoples perceptions right now?  Are we heading for a new dawn or am I seeing a faltering start from a flat-lining economy?

Most of my current workload is taken up with finding independent non-executive directors, it’s a mix of small growing business and large established UK boards.  It’s a fascinating recruitment market for many reasons, not least it allows me to deal with the most senior people in the market and to have some fascinating conversations.  My blog would be infinitely more interesting if I could reproduce some of those but alas confidentiality is imperative to what I do!  In the last week though I’ve chatted with people who worked with Baroness Thatcher while she was at the height of her pomp, people who’ve raised billions of pounds to buy and sell businesses and heard one particularly juicy anecdote re a FTSE 100 CEO.  This makes life anything but dull.  

However I do want to focus on why hiring a good independent NED or two is a must for a small growing business.  There are many little businesses out there which don’t really employ NEDs, why would they?  You’re paying someone a relatively fat salary for a few days a year work, how is that cost effective when you’re struggling to get growth?  This is a conversation I had recently with a CEO, the thing is though it wildly misses the point.  The current competition for NED roles is absolutely fierce and the quality of candidates is honestly mind blowing.  If you have an interesting business with sound growth prospects you could very easily have a ftse100 main board director for very little money each year.  Yes that’s not full time but imagine what you could learn from that person.   Imagine the contacts they have.  Now imagine how much that will help grow your business.  It may be a hefty day rate that you have to fork out but it is more than worth it in the long run.  

An NED might not seem like something that’s important right now but I’d argue it’s time for a rethink, the value there is potentially incredible.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I do, what value I add and how as a headhunter I make money.  Of course one could argue it’s a fairly simple model, sell a retained piece of work, find an employee, get paid.  It’s elegant and simple, if not always particularly exciting.  Is that it though?  Is that all our business model amounts to?

Actually the bits I enjoy about my job and the bits that interest me the most aren’t really the day to day bits of search it’s the much more commercial aspects of what I do that turns me on.  I love meeting a Chairman or a CEO who tells me something interesting about what they do or what they’re looking to do and then connecting them with other businesses or other individuals who can help them achieve their goal.  It’s meeting the entrepreneurs with a great idea who just don’t have the contacts or the capital to get it off the ground and then introducing them to the right people or the right organisations who can help.  Those meetings where you have a great idea for a joint venture between disparate companies that later becomes reality with a bit of a push.  Those are the most interesting aspects of my work but they’re not really what you’d call traditional search work.  Ironically though the value of these to what I do is probably the highest of all, they build my credibility often pay better than a simple search if it leads somewhere and best of all actually creates something which changes the sector I work in just slightly.  

If you’re in recruitment, what other things outside of traditional recruitment do you get up to?  How does it benefit your business and does it make you money?  

Does job title matter?  Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, from my own perspective mostly I admit but it’s an interesting topic.  When I started my current job I was brought on board to do actuarial recruitment, hence the name ActuarialChris.  Since then I’ve recruited a grand total of 0 actuaries.  In terms of search work you tend to go where the markets dictate, so if a particular area is busy you work there.  I’ve ended up specialising in investments in one form or another but mainly around pensions, there are lots of actuaries in this space but it’s mostly not actuarial work really.  Mostly what I’ve done is very senior and of late it’s mainly board level execs, non-execs or chairman type roles.  With this in mind what should my job title be?  When I started I was given the title ‘Head of Actuarial’, sufficiently broad for its original purpose and worked reasonably well, since then though as I’ve moved away from that space it’s less relevant.  Indeed I’m now constantly asked when I headhunt a chairman, why would I be talking to an actuarial recruiter?  As far as I can tell it’s not hampered me at all thus far, if anything it’s been a talking point but it does need to change.  The question is though, what to?  Something generic like simply Associate Director?  True but maybe a bit vague?

So what are other peoples thoughts, does it make any difference ultimately?  It won’t change my level within the company as we’re all on an equal footiing below the owners but it might make a person decide whether or not to speak to me or to use me.