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Organizations adapting to executive shortage in wake of hot market

April 16, 2021
By Adam Dean

The Toronto skyline at dusk. Photo: jonbilous/Adobe Stock

The shortage of senior-level financial services executives in Canada threatens to upend a wide range of organizations, in particular those on Bay Street, as firms face an uphill battle to land top talent.

No sector is immune. Executive shortages have affected investment banking, private equity firms, infrastructure investors and integrated wealth managers, among others.

Where there was once a perception that employers held sway in the war for talent, top candidates are pushing the limits and, in the wake of uncertainty caused by COVID-19, opting to remain in their current roles.

‘Candidate’s market’

Companies report that senior-level searches are taking longer to complete than they did in prior boom years.


A reluctance to move and the resulting dearth of candidates comes at the worst possible time as the market heats up. Those looking to bulk up and take advantage of the backdrop of uncertainty to try to attract top candidates are instead facing delays in hiring and protracted negotiations.

In a “candidate’s market,” compensation is being driven sky-high, while individuals, rather than employers, are dictating other key terms of their new deals, including scoping roles to include greater responsibility for key new areas more than ever before.

All the while, the talent gaps grow larger among a range of financial services and investment firms.

‘Bench strength’ key to succession planning

This is a test for organizations of all stripes given their current appetite to add to their bench and position themselves for the future.

In the world of finance, and capital markets, in particular, this reality threatens boards’ abilities to plan for succession, and at the same time, management teams are unable to find candidates to fill their ranks. This is a challenging combination considering the level of recent M&A activity and the pipeline of transactions expected over the next 12 to 24 months.

This is true of investment bankers covering technology, mining and structured finance (SPACs, mostly). Equally, this has affected those seeking new candidates for senior functional roles such as investor relations, chief financial officers, audit partners and heads of communication, to name a few.

Expanding search options

Companies have a few options in addressing this problem.

We’ve seen Canadian firms expand their domestic searches to include American candidates, making mandates truly North American.

In other examples, search committees have asked their advisers to look at “2ics” (second in command) as a means of expanding their pool of candidates.

Others have looked further afield to different industries, hoping to find candidates whose competencies align with the priorities of the role, albeit from sometimes unexpected backgrounds. This includes private credit firms seeking candidates who hail from private equity and other alternative asset managers; multi-strategy investment firms open to candidates from a particular asset class; and a range of others.

In light of this, there are nonetheless some encouraging signs.

Market-leading organizations have responded by taking a more thoughtful approach to their searches. Committees at these companies now meet more regularly to discuss their most pressing needs and how searches and roles may be modified without compromising the quality of candidates.

At the same time, strategic, long-term-oriented hiring managers have used the delays to examine the new competencies that may be sought during this period of adversity and to refine their searches accordingly.

Our view is that such openness to changing normal procedures is healthy.

That’s because it challenges the status quo and injects new ideas into the search process, including a preference for candidates who have managed through past crises, have demonstrated a strong orientation to collaboration and whose leadership of people is inspiring.

These are all critical qualities as firms look to attract and retain top talent for the coming economic cycle.

Adam Dean is the founder and president at Dean Executive Search in Toronto.

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