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Good news for job seekers, if the latest survey by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) is to be believed. Nearly 70% of executive recruiters have a positive outlook for the year ahead, up from 56% in a similar poll 12 months ago. What’s more, headhunters expect the financial services industry to be one of the three fastest growing sectors—particularly in the Americas—in 2011.

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For all the talk of a jobless recovery, a new report from the Association of Executive Search Consultants suggests that things are looking up for senior professionals, especially if those job seekers are in the financial services industry.

The AESC’s latest quarterly report shows that the number of executive searches launched in the second quarter rose by 7% versus the previous quarter and by 38% versus the previous year. Headhunters were particularly busy with new assignments in the financial services sector, with the number of searches surging 50% year-on-year, more than any other industry.

Any news about improving employment conditions will be welcomed, but news that the job market for senior bankers is recovering faster than others may be greeted a bit less enthusiastically, given prevailing public opinion.

The financial industry in London is finding its feet. In May, the number of new job vacancies in the city’s once-thriving financial services sector was up by more than 80% versus the previous year, according to a new report from recruiter Morgan McKinley. The number of new job candidates, meanwhile, rose by half as much over the same period. The absolute number of candidates, however, continues to outstrip the number of vacancies, suggesting that landing a finance job in the Square Mile remains as tough as ever.

A weighty new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers surveys the state of foreign banks’ operations in China. As with most other industries, the world’s banking groups are looking to China as a key source of growth in the coming years.

But for all of the country’s promise, the barriers to entry are daunting. Following a state-directed lending binge, China’s government-backed domestic banks took additional market share from foreign competitors, who now control only 2% of the country’s banking business. Despite increasingly sophisticated and service-friendly domestic rivals and “policy constraints that dictate the pace, scope and direction of their market penetration”, foreign banks remain firmly committed to China, PwC says. Of course, given the moribund state of financial services in the west, some would argue that they have little choice.

The banks surveyed by the consultancy expect to boost their headcount in China by nearly 50%, on average, over the next three years. There are few places in the world where banks could match that sort of growth (or, indeed, grow at all).

Sentiment among managers in the UK’s hard-hit financial services industry is picking up. According to a new survey of companies in the sector, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Confederation of British Industry found that, with the exception of building societies, financial firms expect business volumes to improve this quarter versus the previous three months. (The chart shows the share of respondents that expect volumes to rise less those that expect a decline.)

Although business may be picking up, jobs are not. Ian McCafferty, chief economic advisor at the CBI, told reporters at the survey’s launch that the country’s financial services industry will shed 17,000 jobs in the first six months of this year. This is in addition to some 116,000 jobs lost since the start of the financial crisis. According to the CBI, around 1m people are employed by the financial services industry in the UK. Despite improving business conditions, this could become a more exclusive club in the future.

Executive recruiting is on the rise, according to a new report. The Association of Executive Search Consultants reported a 7% increase in the number of assignments headhunters took on in the fourth quarter of last year. It was the first annual increase for some time. Even more encouraging for financial services professionals, the sector saw the biggest jump in activity of any industry, with assignments up more than 17% in the fourth quarter.

Job prospects in London’s financial district are improving. According to Morgan McKinley, a recruitment firm, the number of new positions in November rose 15% from the previous year, the first annual increase in two years.

Nonetheless, the number of finance professionals seeking new jobs continues to outstrip the opportunities available to them. Both vacancies and candidates are expected rise further next year, the recruiter notes, as workers stick around to collect bonus cheques before taking advantage of improving industry conditions to seek new roles.

Shortly after Morgan McKinley published its report, the British government announced a 50% windfall tax on bankers’ bonuses. This could make employers think twice about the size of year-end payouts and, as a result, workers may choose to move sooner rather than later, possibly to a different industry.

Last week, Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, announced that it would cut 20%-25% of its workforce over the next five years.

Banks shedding staff is nothing new, but the numbers involved at Sberbank continue to generate interest. The bank employs around 258,000 workers, so the deepest announced cut could involve more than 64,000 people, enough to staff a decent-sized bank in itself. But even after such a drastic cull, the Russian lender will continue to employ far more people relative to the size of its balance sheet than most major banks.

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