Hedge your bets - move into private banking

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Come the inevitable downturn, private bankers will be sitting pretty, according to one recruiter.

"If corporate financiers start to be fired and credit derivatives teams implode, private bankers will still be doing fine," predicts Noel Marshall, managing director of the banking and financial markets team at recruitment firm Finance Professionals.

"We're at the start of a five-year boom - demographics suggest that an ever-increasing proportion of people will have more than 1m in liquid cash," he adds.

It has to be said that Marshall is recruiting private bankers and so may not be totally impartial. However, there could be several grains of truth in what he says. Last year, pre-tax profits across the private banking industry rose 25%, according to consulting firm Scorpio Partnership.

Add to this the fact that millionaires are proliferating faster than rabbits on Cialis (up a stiff 11% last year in the US, according to Bear Stearns); that wealth managers' services seem more appealing when markets are on the slide; and that the private banking sector remains highly fragmented, encouraging new players to move in - and the future for private bankers looks relatively rosy whether it involves a downturn

or not.

"It's the most exciting market at the moment," enthuses Marshall. "And it has the most opportunities."

But not everyone's so sure that private banking is such a good move. "If there were a downturn, people who've recently moved into the market will be first to go," says one headhunter. "Plus, private banks will think twice about hiring them in the first place - corporate financiers who moved into private banking in 2003 all left as soon as the M&A market picked up again."