'Help Wanted' Signs Back Up at Commercial Banks

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After an extended period of payroll reductions, commercial and investment banks are making concerted hiring efforts this academic year, business school administrators and job recruiters say.

They are also extending more offers, according to career development officers at some of the nation's top business schools.

"More firms are coming to campus this year, and all firms are looking to hire more students," said Clayton Simmers, the associate director for career development at Dartmouth University's Tuck School of Business. "The trend is definitely going upward."

At the Anderson School of Management of the University of California Los Angeles, hiring by financial services companies is the "best it's been in three years," said Eric Mokover, the associate dean for career initiatives at the Parker Career Management Center.

Bank recruiters "are almost on their knees when they come here," he said. Many seem to be looking for relief from their heavy workloads, he said. "They look like they haven't slept in about a month."

The return to recruiting is a sign that the job cuts and hiring freezes of the last three years may finally be over. Consultants also note that it could be a sign that efficiency efforts at big commercial banks have reached their limits.

"Banks have cut the fat to the bone," said Mary J. Mallett, a personnel consultant and principal with SearchPro Inc., a bank recruiting firm in Charlotte. As a result, most banks "don't have the bench strength" to deal with improving business conditions, Ms. Mallett said. "They need to start hiring again."

Hiring is picking up in lending, compliance, risk management, audit, and loan workout departments, Ms. Mallett said. Marketing and advertising departments are also recruiting. "We're seeing hiring almost across the board," she said.

The one exception, she said, is in trust, wealth and asset management, and private banking -- areas that all banks are trying to enter. "We haven't seen a lot of movement of money," Ms. Mallett said. "Therefore there hasn't been a movement of people."

Nick Studer, a director at the New York financial services consulting firm Mercer Oliver Wyman, agreed. Cost cutting in financial services "has gone about as far as it can go," he said. Business is coming back in the many areas of the industry where it had been stagnant, and as a result "we see companies adding" for at least the short term.

Though mergers and acquisitions make year-to-year comparisons difficult, most large commercial banks have reduced their payrolls in recent years.

Bank of America Corp. …