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Who wants to be a Swiss banker?

Bank workers ponder their careers in Zurich Keystone

Employment in the Swiss banking sector is changing as banks shed jobs and redefine the skills they are seeking while current workers sit tight. Who would want to enter an industry scarred by reputational damage and poor job security?

Last year, UBS and Credit Suisse slashed 7,000 global jobs between them (around 1,500 in Switzerland). UBS chief executive Sergio Ermotti expressed fears in a recent newspaper interview that 20,000 more jobs may be cut by Swiss banks in the coming years – a fifth of all current employees.

“I fear there may be more job cuts announced this year. There is a worrying tendency for banks to outsource operations as they prepare for tougher new regulations to bite,” Denise Chervet, secretary-general of the Swiss Bank Employees Association, told

Despite the downsizing spree, Swiss banking jobs are still being advertised, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises, according to financial recruitment specialist firm Robert Walters.

But banks have largely narrowed their search to more experienced staff, consultant Benjamin Menai told “They want to hire people who will be able to deliver from day one,” he said.

Job hopping over

And job hunters should be aware of what disciplines are most sought after at the moment. Legal and compliance professionals are most in demand as banks seek to keep ahead of the changing regulatory landscape.

But some banks are still hiring relationship and portfolio managers and strategic specialists as they chase more assets, Menai advised.

Denise Chervet admitted that well qualified, experienced, multilingual bankers can still find employment in the banking sector. “But the difference now is that once you have found a job you can never be sure how long you will keep it,” she added.

The days of “hopping about” between jobs in the financial sector in search of a few thousand more francs in pay are over, according to Menai.

“Candidates pay more and more attention to the brand they are willing to work for, to the mission they will be in charge of, and the environment they will evolve in,” he said.

Numbers stable

 Philipp Zogg, 28, joined UBS’s Graduate Training Program (GTP) last year in the midst of a downsizing drive sparked by poor financial results and a changing regulatory environment that has compelled banks to drive down costs.

Zogg considered alternative careers in consultancy and the public sector before plumping for banking. He is one of 1,100 people currently on UBS’s GTP (200 based in Switzerland), which is roughly the same number as pre-crisis years.

“I considered the negative situation surrounding banking in my evaluation of different opportunities, but it proved not to be a decisive criteria,” Zogg told “There has been a lot of negative press, but banking remains an essential part of the Swiss economy.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of people employed by banks in Switzerland fell by less than two per cent in the first two years after the financial crisis, according to the Swiss National Bank (SNB). And compared to 2006, there were actually 4,000 more bankers in Switzerland at the end of 2010, although SNB figures do not cover more recent losses.

Smaller cantonal and private banks, foreign owned institutions, plus the cooperative Raiffeisen banks have been hiring more staff over the last few years, in stark contrast to the two big banks.

Boom and bust

Part of the growth was driven by clients moving assets from big banks to more local, and less prominent, rivals. Another positive factor has been the rude health of the Swiss real estate sector that has persuaded more people to invest in bricks and mortar – thus creating a boom in the mortgage lending business.

But the “good times” for these banks might not last very much longer. The global crackdown on tax evasion has started to target smaller Swiss banks, with a United States indictment forcing Wegelin into meltdown earlier this year.

The real estate boom has also brought fears of a price bubble in key locations that could spell disaster across the country if it bursts.

“The mortgage lending boom has reached its pinnacle and interest rates cannot stay this low for much longer,” Denise Chervet told

Philipp Zogg remains undaunted by the shifting sands of the Swiss banking sector. His philosophical response is that his UBS training will at the very least provide him with vital skills and a positive entry on his CV.

“In 10 years will I be in banking, consulting or running my own business? I don’t know, but it is important to get a strong basis and take things step by step,” he told “In today’s environment you have to be flexible because you don’t know what life will throw at you or where you will end up.”

Switzerland’s banking sector has not been the only one to see massive job losses since the financial crisis struck in 2008.

According to the Bloomberg news agency, the financial sector as a whole slashed some 200,000 posts last year.

HSBC announced it would cut 30,000 posts in August of last year. Lloyds is in the process of reducing posts by 15,000, Barclays by 3,000 and Royal Bank of Scotland by 3,500.

Dutch bank ABM Ambro also took the decision last year to cut 2,350 staff.

In the US, Bank of America launched a cost cutting programme affecting 30,000 posts in September of last year, with another 2,000 announced in May.

Citigroup said in December it would slash 4,500 posts, Goldman Sachs is planning a reduction of 1,000 posts with Morgan Stanley cutting headcount by 1,600.

The number of people employed by Swiss banks remained stable between 2006 and 2010 despite the financial crisis, according to the Swiss National Bank.

2006: 104,245

2007: 108,820

2008: 110,122

2009: 107,546

2010: 108,000

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR