'Portable Executives' Find Top-Level Work as Temps

Article excerpt

Welcome to the era of bankers-for-rent.

Banks, like other employers, are relying increasingly on temporary professional help to fill senior posts. While banks have long hired tellers and clerical workers for brief stints, they are now tapping temps for such high-profile jobs as trust officer or human resources recruiter.

The growing use of these "portable executives," as they are often called, is yet another indication that banking is no longer the secure profession of years gone by.

"Five or six years ago, I know banks would have never considered bringing a commercial lender in for a three- to six-month assignment," said Erick Schilling, president of Schilling Professional Staffing, Wallingford, Pa., which places bankers in temporary jobs. "But they are now."

To be sure, temps still make up a tiny portion of the bank work force-no more than 2% or 3%, according to most estimates. Still, placement professionals say jobs earmarked for temps have grown steadily in recent years.

Professional workers-mostly accountants, technologists, lawyers, and bankers-pulled in 5.8% of revenues generated by all temporary workers in 1995, up from 2.4% in 1991, according to the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services.

In banking, much of the trend seemed to be taking place quietly.

"Everybody knows it's happening," said Gloria Gerstein, a spokeswoman for KPMG Peat Marwick, a firm that advises banks on staffing and compensation issues.

But banks are tight-lipped for a reason, she said: "There are all sorts of tax implications for consultants who work as employees, so I think they kind of hush it up."

Employment agency executives say that bank mergers, with their resulting layoffs and voluntary departures, combined with the mantra of cost-cutting, are root causes of banks' decisions to seek out professional temps.

Some larger banks are also turning to their own pool of downsized workers for temporary help, paying them hourly wages instead of their former bonus-and-benefit laden salaries. Bankers and placement executives commonly point to Chase Manhattan Corp. as an example. (Chase declined comment for this story.)

"It's a cost savings for the bank, but it's not necessarily the most satisfying thing from the employee's perspective," said Al Galland, president of Professional Financial Temporaries Inc. of New York.

In an industry once known for its stability, the thought of life without a regular income or place of employment makes some people queasy.

But others thrive. Brian Richards, a human resources manager who lost his job with CoreStates Financial Corp. three years ago, has done temporary stints at four banks and enjoys the independence.

"I think people who maybe feel they're exploited have not really focused on certain realities of the job market right now," said Mr. …