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Banking jobs What it takes to succeed in the new world of Swiss banking

Zurich Paradeplatz by night with lit buildings and trams in a busy street
(Keystone)

The threat of cyber attacks like WannaCry and Petya are creating lucrative opportunities for specialists looking to work in the financial sector.

Top candidates for a job as a cyber security expert can “easily” command salaries of CHF1 million ($1 million). That’s according to Robert Walters, founder and chief executive of the eponymous white collar recruitment agency. “Protection and security of data is vitally important and we find that cyber security experts are earning a fortune,” he said.

Jobs in risk management, legal and compliance are also much in demand as Swiss banks tackle a growing array of regulatory demands – from reducing risky activities to implementing anti-money laundering rules. The tighter reins placed on banks are due in part to the financial crisis and tax evasion scandals. The new requirements eat up staff time and threaten margins.

“The Swiss financial regulator wants Switzerland to be seen as an ethical, safe and secure place to have banks,” said Nick Dunnett, head of Robert Watersexternal link Germany and Switzerland. “These types of jobs will continue to grow over the next five years.” This is also true in the growing wave of fintech start-ups. 

And the digitization of financial services is changing the way banks interact with customers and do business.

However, apart from cyber security, job seekers with legal and compliance skills are no longer able to name their salaries. “Two years ago you would see a real salary premium for these roles, but there is now a better talent pool for these skills in Switzerland,” said Dunnett. “Salaries have levelled out as banks have become more cost-conscious.”

In fact, a majority of Swiss bank employees need to get used to a diet of lower pay and longer commutes, the head of the Swiss Bank Employers Association told a recent summit. Last year banks shed 1,606 full time posts in Switzerland and a further 1,387 abroad.

Increasingly, employees and people interested in working in the sector must show flexibility, switching from one project to another and, above all, staying ahead of the new technological skill requirements, according to Robert Walters.

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Graph showing the evolution pf base pay and bonuses for Swiss bankers from 2009 to 2017

Remuneration of Swiss banking jobs

Figures from the Swiss National Bank this month revealed that employee costs rose marginally last year despite a 2.5% drop in full-time posts at Swiss banks. This shows that there can be a time lag between shedding jobs and achieving cost-savings.

Dunnett says he spends a lot of our time managing the expectations of job candidates. “Salaries and the tax environment are favourable in Switzerland compared to other European countries. But at the same time, businesses still have to run and balance sheets have to add up,” he said. 

This is particularly problematic for people looking for a new job having worked their way up the ladder during a long career. Denise Chervet, CEO of the Association of Swiss Bank Employees, complained to the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper in March that many experienced staff have had to take pay cuts after being reassigned new posts as banks restructure.

Restructuring in the new landscape of banking is bringing a further change to the employment market, according to Dunnett. Switzerland is fast playing catch-up with the rest of Europe in the sphere of interim, or freelance, workers. These are drop-in professionals who earn a buck by managing specific projects - on average six months at a time - before moving on to a new temporary employer.

They would typically manage the implementation of new regulations or IT systems to bring banks up to digital speed. For cost-conscious banks this arrangement is proving more attractive, says Dunnett. This role has traditionally been filled by consultancy firms, but banks are increasingly looking for “plug and play” experts with experience of working in the banking industry.

And the workforce is responding to this demand. “In the past there may have been a bit of a stigma about being a freelancer without a permanent job in Switzerland,” Dunnett said. “The mindset was about jobs for life, but the market is changing.”

Banking pay

The Swiss Bank Employers Association estimates the median monthly gross pay for a bank worker in Switzerland to be CHF9,549 (around CHF115,000 annual) compared to CHF5,189 for all sectors. This ranges between 15,695 for upper management to CHF6,762 for non-management positions.

In a representative survey held every two years, the Association for Swiss Bank Employees calculates the median annual pay for all levels of staff to be CHF102,000 (see graph above), up 2% from 2013. In the same survey, median bonuses fell from CHF10,000 in 2015 to CHF9,750. 
 
Just over 61% of respondents to the survey said they were very happy or satisfied with their base pay while 6.7% said they were “very unhappy”. The picture changes somewhat when looking at bonuses - some 55% were content with their performance-related pay while 14.6% showed extreme frustration.

This was a point picked up by recruitment firm Michael Page in an NZZ am Sonntag newspaper article in March. On average, bank bonuses fell between 20% and 30%, the headhunter was quoted in the article. Last year, the UBS bonus pool fell 17% while Credit Suisse raised theirs by 6%. 

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