Big-bank headcounts aren't budging

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Pockets of job growth are offsetting some of the dramatic cuts at the world’s largest lenders.

Bank of America, Wells Fargo, HSBC Holdings and Credit Suisse Group added about 12,000 jobs in the first half of the year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, meaning aggregate staff levels at 16 of the largest U.S. and European lenders have not budged even amid the high-profile slashing.

Headcount is holding steady as firms including JPMorgan Chase and BofA open hundreds of branches in new cities and states across the U.S., reversing a decade-long stretch of reductions. Meanwhile, the battle for technology talent continues to create demand for new positions. And even those firms that are cutting also have to beef up in areas such as compliance.

Bank stocks have trailed broader markets across Europe and the U.S. amid concerns about declining and even negative interest rates and sluggish capital markets. That has led executives even at firms that are boosting profits to strike an austere tone in an effort to show investors that they are reining in costs. In contrast to many industries, banks are making cuts loudly and hiring with little fanfare.

Barclays said it eliminated 3,000 jobs in the second quarter, yet its total headcount is down by only 1,500 this year. The British bank has been ditching retail units around the world while focusing more on investment banking, where it has said it is hiring.

After reducing staff by a total of 800,000 people following the 2008 crisis, some of the largest banks resumed hiring in recent years as business stabilized and they seized market share from rivals. Still, the mix has shifted toward lower-paid staff while traders and investment bankers have seen their ranks — and their pay — shrink in the past decade.

And the pain at some firms is just getting started. The job-cut announcements in the past few months have come mostly from European banks, some of which have yet to finish restructuring.

Deutsche Bank AG, which has pledged to eliminate 18,000 positions in the next three years, has cut only about 900 this year. The German bank, which is notoriously slow in realizing its job-cutting targets, is just 11% below its peak staff level in 2010, while some rivals have cut theirs by more than half.

HSBC’s staff rose by 2,500 in the first half of the year as it added in areas including information technology, wealth management and retail and digital banking. The firm said last month it would ax more than 4,000 positions, with a focus on senior executives.

“We’re not cutting costs, but managing costs, so they grow slower than the growth in revenues,” HSBC spokesman Robert Sherman said.

Bloomberg News