In the rapidly consolidating banking industry, it is important to keep track of the roiling job market.

Few are better equipped to provide insight into how banks fill their top-level positions than John Platte, the head of the U.S. regional banking practice with Russell Reynolds Associates, a leading executive recruitment firm.

Recently Mr. Platte met with American Banker in his office on Park Avenue in New York to discuss the state of hiring in the banking industry.

Before joining Russell Reynolds in 1981, Mr. Platte, 56, held money management positions with banks including Chemical Bank and National Commercial Bank of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "If I knew that the money management business would boom so much, maybe I would have stayed in it," he said.

Though the number of banks is shrinking, Mr. Platte said, it's a terrific time to be a headhunter for the industry. "Our business thrives on change," he said, "and banks are doing things differently than just a few years ago."

We've been told that banks are clamoring for chief information officers, and salaries are jumping for that position and other top tech-related positions at banks. What are some of the other key areas in banking right now, from your perspective?

PLATTE: On the commercial side, the loan syndications area is really hot. We're also finding consumer finance-either direct lending or indirect lending-is also hot. And the investment management side is still strong- positions such as chief investment officer or portfolio managers for banks.

Where have banks been getting their asset management talent from? Is it still difficult to recruit from nonbank asset management firms?

PLATTE: Most people in asset management firms still perceive that the investment business in banks is not the primary business of the banks. And they're reluctant to go to an institution where they're not going to be in the mainstream.

Is there also an issue of the compensation that banks pay?

PLATTE: Yes, but banks have begun stepping up to the plate. Some of the perceptions are changing now. And that's helping.

How much emphasis are the banks that you work with putting on hiring people outside of traditional banking?

PLATTE: In a lot of the areas that they're getting into, we have to go outside banking for candidates. It started out in the credit card area, but banks are now looking outside for marketing and technical talent for other consumer lending areas, such as mortgages and direct consumer loans.

Can you describe the kind of effort that banks are making in the hiring of women and minorities? Are these banks asking you directly to bring them such candidates?

PLATTE: It's almost part of the routine over the past two or three years, particularly in the money-center banks and the larger regional banks.

And what kind of positions are we talking about?

PLATTE: Virtually every position. We recently have recruited women and minorities to positions ranging from several corporate board directors to executive positions such as senior vice president/direct banking and a head of loan syndications at a major global bank.

What is motivating these banks to hire women and minorities for top positions?

PLATTE: There is community pressure, there is their own conscience, and then some of them have actually said, "It makes good business sense."

Given the consolidation in banking, is this a tough time to be recruiting for banks?

PLATTE: No, it's a very good time. Our business thrives on change, and banks are doing things differently than just a few years ago.

And they often don't have the talent to do what they want to do. Who would have thought that banks would have been in the subprime business just a few years ago? Now all of them are considering it.

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