Ellis Ratner, a banking specialist at executive recruiter Kenzer Corp., recalls a recent conversation with an acquaintance, an executive at a major New York bank who's a number of rungs below the top. The subject? What it might take, money-wise, to induce him to leave for another job. "The figure of $550,000 came up, and he just kind of chuckled," Ratner says.

Recruiters across the country know the phenomenon well. Top bankers, riding the long bull market and beefed-up pay packages, many sprinkled liberally with stock options, aren't exactly hankering to leave for unknown parts. It's a job-seller's market, and it is costing hiring banks a pile of dough-and frequently sign-on bonuses-to induce people to move.

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