Please look for the first and second chapters of “Musings From Quarantine” on ACAMSToday.org under our Career Guidance column.
I have been recruiting in the anti-money laundering (AML), compliance and regulatory space for 13 years and have experienced two recessions during that time. The most valuable lesson I have learned is that recessions are as predictable as any other cycle―from a hiring perspective, at least. My first day on the job was July 15, 2008. I remember because two months to the day later, this large bank with which I was only becoming familiar went bankrupt. Depending on who you ask, September 15, 2008, is when the dominoes started to fall after the Lehman Brothers’ demise. You received whiplash attempting to keep up with all the banks and companies merging, filing for bankruptcy or crying to the government for help. At the beginning―and at the deepest parts of a recession―the first victims are jobs, especially low-income ones. My phone started ringing off the hook at the end of 2008 and did not stop until the beginning of 2010. The calls started trickling in at a more rapid pace, and then suddenly there were stories about people getting laid off en masse. In 2009, American Express filled auditoriums of people and laid them off all at once. Practically speaking, it makes sense. How do you lay off 50,000 people one by one?
The effects of recessions are usually unexpected. This company goes bankrupt; then that one. Then you realize the economy is a house of cards waiting for just the lightest breeze to topple it. The go-to Band-Aid for most companies is to lay off employees and save cash through operational costs. Massive layoffs accelerate, cause greater pain and anxiety, and lead to government intervention. Government intervention leads to stimulus checks and cash infusions from all directions. The irony is that companies never stop hiring even when they are firing half their workforce. During both the Great Recession and the pandemic recession, there were millions of jobs that were actively open and not filled. What happens is that buyers control the market during recessions. Companies can cherry-pick candidates, which makes sense. There is more supply than demand. Millions of people take themselves out of the job market because the job market is in hibernation. Stimulus checks (hopefully) get unemployed people through the recession, and employed people cling to their jobs like their lives depend on it. As a result, people stay in homeostasis for a certain period (usually, a year or two). Then, the light starts appearing at the end of this very long tunnel.
People are starting to become much more active, in all senses of the word, as they detach themselves slowly from the economic, public health and social shackles of the pandemic. I have (literally) moved more the first half of 2021 than all of 2020. And the job market is hotter than a Death Valley cactus in July. In the U.S., more than 3.29 million jobs were added between March 2021 and July 2021 and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.4%.1 In addition, 7.6 million employees still need to be added to private company payrolls to get to the employment rate in February 2020.2 They said the Great Recession was the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. The pandemic depression and recession made the Great Recession look like a walk in the park.
However, the bounce back is even more pronounced. In April 2021, there were 9.3 million open jobs waiting to be filled.3 In April 2020, there were close to 5 million open jobs.4 Compare that to the bounce back during the Great Recession: There were 3.5 million jobs going into January 2012. At the lowest point, in November 2009, there were 2.4 million open jobs according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.5 What the U.S. is experiencing now (as of June 2021) reminds me of exactly what happened after the darkest times of the Great Recession. So job seekers―currently employed or in between jobs―can take advantage of the organic cycles of recessions.
While the Great Recession had the Dodd-Frank Act, the pandemic recession has vaccines. In 2010, Dodd-Frank created a slate of new positions out of thin air inside and outside of compliance and AML. In 2021, vaccinations against COVID-19 are allowing people to go outside and reopen the economy. In addition to the millions of new jobs that were created, companies are announcing that they plan to hire hundreds and thousands of employees now and in the future.6 The job market coming out of this recession, like those in the past, is a sellers’ market. Candidates will have the upper hand as they receive and leverage multiple offers.
There are also other factors adding to the recruiting frenzy that is currently taking place, especially in the compliance, AML and regulatory space. The first factor is the fintech renaissance. Last year banking and financial services had to go digital. Most people were banking and investing from home. Alternative remittance, cryptocurrency wallets and exchanges, as well as robo-advisers increased staff across the board. AML and compliance teams certainly grew. The second factor is more of a nuance of the pandemic recession. This recession was not the result of a fundamental flaw in the economy, which was the case in the Great Recession. Projects were put on hold because employees had to adjust to a new way of living and working quickly. Those projects are now back on the table and require additional staff immediately. The last factor is the government. The U.S. now has a Democratic federal administration, which usually equates to more regulation and enforcement. Add all these factors up and you get a recruiting boom. These upcoming 12-to-18 months will be interesting as there are, and will continue to be, too many open roles and not enough people to fill them. This is across all industries; AML and compliance are no different.
Words of Wisdom
Many people thrived during the quarantine. They lost weight and hit peak fitness, discovered new hobbies, got better at their jobs, or a combination of all the above and more. Others did not fare as well. They lost their jobs, homes, health and family members as well as loved ones. The pandemic that will make 2020 live in infamy changed life for all so quickly. Now, people are starting to see the semblance of pre-pandemic times. Those small things in life we took for granted but we missed instantly: seeing our families for no reason, going to a fast-food joint and grabbing a beer at our local bar. Hopefully, we do not take them for granted again.
The job market is getting its groove back, and it is your turn to take advantage of it. How, as a job seeker, do you take advantage of a recession ending? Specifically, how do you take advantage of the pandemic recession ending?
- Start looking now: The number of projects and full-time roles in AML and compliance will only increase. However, that does not mean you will get a job just because you want one. You have no idea how many people I work with that bang their heads against the wall because they are not getting the number of interviews and offers they were expecting. Then they lose steam and take themselves out of the market in frustration. Those that stick it out and look for the right position end up having another problem: They end up having multiple offers and do not know which one to pick.
- Seek more skills and not just more compensation: I have been championing this philosophy since I started writing for ACAMS Today. More skills equate to more compensation. Or, at least, more skills equate to more options. In addition to technology and artificial intelligence becoming a more significant part of AML and compliance programs in the legacy banking space, fintech and regtech companies are seeking technologically savvy compliance professionals. Use this time and opportunity to search for a job that will open more doors to learning new ways of executing as well as managing an efficient and streamlined compliance function.
- Do yourself a favor and do not expect all jobs to be 100% remote: Do not say no to potential roles off the bat if 100% remote work is not on the table. Hybrid and remote work are now part of our lives but do not assume all roles have a 100% remote option. We will be going back to the office in some capacity. We transitioned to working remotely abruptly and under duress back in March 2020. We did not make the transition organically. Executives are going to want their employees back in the office.
- Work your network: We all could network the conventional way during the Great Recession: lunches, conferences, coffees and cocktails. Before the end of social distancing restrictions, it was meetings on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts. Guess what? There is no difference. Reach out to former colleagues and bosses, connect with new and potential contacts on LinkedIn and attend virtual conferences. Lastly, think about attending ACAMS conferences and events that your local chapter is hosting as they start returning in person.
- Your career path is not set in stone: One of the best times to consider changing careers, industries and geographies is following a recession. Sellers’ markets allow us to control not only our conventional job searches, but also our purpose and missions. What if compliance and AML has treated you well but your gut (maybe even your heart) is telling you that part of your life has run its course? In a hot job market, companies are getting desperate to find personnel. Take advantage of that desperation! Companies are open to creative ways to fill their headcount. With there being more open jobs than qualified candidates and job seekers, 2021 and 2022 will be excellent years to go outside your comfort zone.
- Use recruiting professionals (for free): This is not a self-serving statement. Agency recruiters are free sources of information on the job market, your shared industry, trends in hiring, skillsets in demand, and, of course, jobs. Whether you are actively looking or passively keeping an eye open, leverage your trusted professional advisors. Consider agency recruiters part of your growing network in your work community.
By the end of 2021, hundreds of thousands of people will likely reenter the job market. A large segment of the working population who will be seeking employment are those who took themselves out of the workforce to take care of children who were being homeschooled, or because they were receiving state and federal funding that compensated them better than their jobs. Children will be returning to in-person teaching and federal and state funding will end. As a result, the economy will become red hot and the unemployment rate will drop to pre-pandemic levels. The irony is that many full-time permanent positions are on hold because of the labor shortage. Companies are engaging contractors and consultants to start projects in the meantime and waiting for the influx of new candidates. Thousands and thousands of jobs will be added in addition to the millions that are already open. It will remain a sellers’ market.
This is the right time for job seekers. By implementing the recommendations of flexibility, learning and expanding your network and by taking control of your future in a market that caters to the job seeker, you will be able to leverage the best career or job for your needs. Who knows, you might end up with a career that pre-pandemic was not possible but has now turned into your dream job.
- “Civilian unemployment rate,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 6, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
- Scott Horsley and Andrea Hsu, “Hiring Picked Up Last Month, But The Economy Still Needs More Workers,” NPR, June 4, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/06/04/1003035263/hiring-picked-up-last-month-a-relief-for-an-economy-desperate-for-workers
- Jeff Cox, “Job openings set record of 9.3 million as labor market booms,” CNBC, June 8, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/08/job-openings-set-new-record-of-9point3-million-amid-economic-reopening.html
- “Job openings, hires, and separations levels, seasonally adjusted” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/charts/job-openings-and-labor-turnover/opening-hire-seps-level.htm
- “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 13, 2012, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/jolts_03132012.htm
- “Amazon to hire 100,000 more workers in its latest job spree this year,” CNBC, September 14, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/14/amazon-to-hire-100000-more-workers-in-its-latest-job-spree-this-year.html; Jessica DiNapoli, “PwC to Create 100,000 New Jobs to Help Clients Grappling with ESG Reporting,” Insurance Journal, June 16, 2021, https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2021/06/16/618744.htm