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Cautious optimism is the right mood for the UK, says Paul Avon

Saturday 13 July 2013 by Gina Le Prevost

It's probably no surprise that the private client market in the UK is generally characterised as a buyer's market. To some extent this is correct, as businesses have encountered headwinds over the past few years. The most significant of these  has been the economic uncertainty the UK has faced, particularly in relation to the European crisis. Clients have frequently lacked confidence in further investment, and this has led to fewer new opportunities.

There have been some encouraging signs of late, but until there is confidence in the private client community that the European crisis has played out and the risk of major shocks is significantly reduced, clients on the whole will remain circumspect.

This has also affected candidates' receptiveness to new opportunities, with many adopting a cautious approach. The better candidates do their due diligence, and rightly so, before embarking on what is often a long and arduous interview process.

Candidates with multi-jurisdictional and cross-border structuring experience are  particularly attractive

This overall picture contrasts with pre-crisis market conditions, where clients had to compete far harder for the best talent. Nowadays, the client's approach to most recruitment exercises is one of caution and exacting demands. Often the process can take months, with endless interviews, and even then it can be halted at a moment's notice as another crisis erupts and the client pauses to think.

Bright spots

Of course the private client community is broad, and in a flat landscape there are some bright spots. Probably the most active part of the market is the family office segment, which has remained largely resilient to the global macro-economic problems. London, especially, is seen as one of the most attractive places to establish a family office, thanks to a stable political system, its own sovereign currency, a favourable time zone, and elite business services on tap, particularly in the legal, trust and finance community.

Private client accountants, tax, legal and trust professionals have opportunities in this field, as do those from the private banking, investment, operations and real estate world. Candidates with multi-jurisdictional and cross-border structuring experience are particularly attractive.

However, the barriers to entry are significant. Roles are not advertised and (if the right approach is taken by the recruiter) are not general currency in the market. Recruitment for family offices is often executed on a search basis, so if you get a call from a headhunter it means you are probably considered among the best in the STEP community and you should probably listen to what is being said, even if you have found utopia in your current role.

The mood among most clients is one of cautious optimism, which heralds a brighter outlook over the next 12 months. I believe there is pent-up demand and I detect a strong desire from clients to move forward with recruitment projects. The mood is slowly changing and, if we can sustain a period of calm, a very different picture will emerge.