Contrary to expectations that the worldwide financial crisis would push trade finance executives out of jobs, U.S. banks are continuing to build up their international trade-related activities, according to bankers and recruiters.
"What we're finding is that companies need a lot more expertise because of the current situation," said Henry J. Jurgens, senior vice president for international operations at Sanwa Bank of California in Los Angeles. "And don't forget, trade is a two-way street. Even if exports are down, imports are up."
He also noted that as large banks cut back on international trade credits, small and medium-size institutions are stepping in to fill the gap.
According to Flores Finance Services, a Lake Geneva, Wis., recruiting firm, banks in the Southeast, Midwest, and portions of the Northeast and California continue to hunt for trade finance specialists, especially seasoned executives with experience.
"We're getting calls from bigger banks as well as smaller banks ratcheting up to meet the needs of their customers," said Robert Flores, the firm's president. "Smaller banks, in particular, are putting in infrastructure for the middle market and lower end of the middle market, which until now hasn't been serviced by the bigger banks."
Along with the shift toward import rather than export financing, Mr. Jurgens noted, many companies are scrapping so-called open account trade finance and replacing it with documentary collections and letters of credit.
Under open account trade, an exporter simply ships the goods and sends a bill. Documentary collections and letters of credit use bank guarantees to collect payments and require more intensive processing. They are used when there is concern about whether or not payment for the goods will be completed.
According to a survey just re-leased by Flores Financial, the Northeast remains the No. 1 region for international bankers in both salary and bonuses. The survey found that a vice president for international banking with an institution based in the Northeast earns $80,000 to $120,000 and can also get a bonus of 25% to 100% of his or her base salary.
The Midwest ranked second in compensation, with salaries for a similar position ranging from $75,000 to $110,000, and bonuses of 20% to 100%.
Banks in the Southeast offered the lowest compensation, with salaries starting at $72,500 and going up to $100,000.
Mr. Flores said that much of the movement among trade finance executives has been triggered by mergers and acquisitions, which have created opportunities for smaller institutions to recruit veteran specialists from larger banks.
He also noted that as bigger banks cut back on international credits and bonuses because of losses in unrelated areas like trading, trade finance executives are increasingly opting for higher base pay rather than high bonuses.
"Incentive programs have been very attractive," he said, "but people making changes are getting a little bit cautious and they want it up at the front end."