UK - Pension funds and related support services are being forced to step up their efforts in the search for new recruits, as increasing competition and new entrants in the market are reducing the number of suitable candidates.

Over recent months, there has been feverish recruitment activity between the investment and pensions consultancies - Aon, Hewitt, Mercer and Watson Wyatt have all been actively poaching staff from eachother to fill key roles - so Watson Wyatt has now launched a major UK advertising campaign to try and attract potential new candidates before vacancies arise.

A spokesman for Watson Wyatt said the advertising will be rolled out on Monday on display billboards and ground prints across five London railway stations about its recruitment drive, along with branded London taxis and targeted campaigns in trade publications.

"We are almost in a situation where we almost have to turn work away with the resources we currently have so the only way to meet that is to have more people with the right skills," said the spokesman.

"At the same time, there are new players in this area as investment banks are becoming more interested in this space, and accounting firms who previously pulled out of the consultancy market are now moving back in because of Sarbanes-Oxley, so there is more competition gearing up for suitable people," he added.

Indeed, specialist search and selection agencies, for example, have found investment and pensions consultancies now need to be proactive about their search for suitable candidates rather than wait for vacancies to arise by holding informal discussions with potential recruits rather than official interviews. As a result, they have taken to approaching individuals outside their existing markets, rather than hoping to catch people's attention, as new openings arise.

Ian Gayle, managing consultant at PSD Recruitment - which now has six individuals working for pension funds - said pension funds outside the major metropolitan regions of London, Manchester and Reading, in particular, are having to look further afield for potential recruits to all levels of role, because there are insufficient numbers of people with relevant skills.

"If [funds] are looking for in-house staff, and are based in these regions, they have a good pool of candidates to choose from. In towns such as Nottingham and Northampton, for example, we see a big supply distinction," said Gayle.

"At investment consultancies, roles are more likely to be filled at a senior level but it is less attractive further down so the situation is they are being a little more proactive about the search for candidates, by having informal chats and telling them about the company first before discussing specific roles," he added.

Mark Hyde-Harrison, chief executive of the £15.5bn (€20.68bn) Barclays UK Retirement Fund, said schemes like his own, which have large numbers of specialist roles to fulfil, are increasingly finding it is necessary to look beyond the pensions industry to find professionals with the necessary skills and be more realistic about the potential remuneration paid as a result.

"The backdrop of pension funds since the millennium is the subject has been rising up the corporate agenda. The challenges pension funds are facing, whether it be funding for sponsors, the complexities developing in the marketplace and the oversight of the [Pensions] Regulator, has all caused the bar to rise for pensions professionals," said hyde-Harrison.

"The challenge is a huge one for us to attract new capabilities to the industry from what was a traditional market, as we need new and different skill sets. It depends on the standards we set, but we need to look outside the traditional pensions market, particularly where we need specialists," he continued.

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