NEW YORK — Employment is rising at financial-services companies in New York, with bankers and insurance professionals among the most desirable of candidates in an industry still recovering from heavy losses two years ago.

Over a three-month period from the end of February through May, financial-services employment grew by 6,800 in New York City — the largest three-month increase in nearly two years, according to data from the New York State Department of Labor. The employment boost is the largest such gain within the industry since it reported the addition of 7,200 positions from May to August 2008.

"The war for talent has intensified," said Michael Karp, co-founder of Options Group, a financial-services executive search and consulting firm.

Large banks are replenishing infrastructure and support staff slashed during the financial crisis and recession and in some cases bolstering staff in key businesses such as equity derivatives and commodities. Midsize firms and boutiques still see opportunities to boost their market share with professionals that have big-bank experience.

And, significantly, layoffs have slowed, a change that James Brown, a principal economist with the New York State Department of Labor, called "the biggest factor over the last few months."

New York City reported 429,000 professionals in the financial-activities sector, up from 425,000 in March and 422,200 in February. The end of February marked the industry's lowest employment level in New York City in the past 20 years, according to the New York labor data.

While industry employment has increased, employment among securities professionals such as investment bankers and financial advisers has dropped. According to the Labor Department data, New York City reported 157,900 such employees as of the end of May, down from 158,600 on Jan. 31.

Gary Goldstein, chief executive of the Whitney Group, an executive search firm focused on the financial-services industry, said Wall Street firms "probably let go of more people than they should have from late 2007 through the middle of 2009."

Over the past year, firms such as Jefferies Group Inc. and Nomura Holdings Inc. have been particularly aggressive in adding professionals. Jefferies has been looking to boost its market share within investment banking, bolstering its profile in a space with fewer competitors. Nomura, a Japanese bank, has been expanding in the U.S.

One key element of increased hiring is that aggressive compensation deals are back on the table. Karp said prospects in hot businesses such as equity derivatives and commodities are receiving compensation offers 30% to 40% higher than a year ago, though he notes not all professionals should expect the same boost in payouts.

Karp said the typical managing director at a Wall Street firm can now expect a base salary of $400,000, whereas such a job paid out $250,000 three years ago. However, that increase doesn't take into account bonus payments which have in many cases been altered to tie professionals' pay more to long-term performance.

News of the Labor Department's New York City employment data was reported earlier Monday by Bloomberg News.

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