Technology specialists will be among the hotter commodities in what is expected to be a flat year for hiring in the financial services industry.

Whether for year-2000 projects or electronic commerce, banks and other financial companies are in hot pursuit of technology staff members, recruiters say.

Despite the high layoff numbers announced last year-at least 62,400 in financial services, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas of Chicago-there are openings.

Sales and marketing, investment management, home equity, and investment banking are other areas recruiters say could see job growth. But expectations of a slowing economy could curtail hiring in the second half of 1999, they added.

People familiar with the Internet, as well as with electronic commerce, and computer systems specialists will be in demand, said Kevin Connelly, a director at the executive search firm Spencer Stuart's Chicago office.

On the other hand, consolidation among credit card issuers is slowing hiring in that business and traditional commercial bankers continue to be less sought after, Mr. Connelly said.

Mark Esposito, managing director for financial services in New York for the search firm Christian & Timbers, said senior positions are being created to deal with technology issues. In addition to chief information officers, companies are creating chief technology officer positions to set direction for products.

Mr. Esposito said he also expects some Wall Street and New York bank executives to go to work for small to midsize regional banks or hedge funds.

Peter Crist, president of Crist Partners, a search firm in Chicago, said investment experts such as equity analysts and portfolio managers should be in demand. But he cautioned that in the second half of 1999, hiring may slow down as financial companies eye uncertainty in the economy.

"Anyone thinking about making a move in financial services would certainly want to do it before June-and they'd want a two-year deal," Mr. Crist said.

While the insurance industry is consolidating, it is also going through a transformation that may create an opportunity for sales and marketing experts and bank managers, Mr. Crist said.

George Biel, senior vice president and general manager of the outplacement firm Manchester Inc.'s Edison, N.J., office, said people with sales and service experience will be in demand among all financial services companies. "There is a lot of time and money going into service and sales," he said.

In general, bank jobs are few, Mr. Biel said. About 70% of bankers who lose their jobs go into other fields, he said.

John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger Gray, said total announced layoffs in 1998 were about 678,000. That and the financial services number were both the highest in the 1990s. The strong economy and low unemployment softened the pain somewhat, he said.

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