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Citi’s head of UK investment banking says students need to find out what they really want to do

Citibank Headquarters London

If you’re a student trying to break into investment banking now, can you be casual about your journey towards your first job? Now that those making the cut are better qualified than ever, laden with internships and impeccable academics, can you take the time to find yourself?

Maybe not. But Michael Lavelle, UK and Ireland head of corporate and investment banking and EMEA vice chairman of corporate and investment banking at Citigroup, believes that the next generation of bankers needs to at least ensure they’re making the right choice before they start.

“I would encourage the next generation of investment bankers to experience as much as they can,” he said on the sidelines of the UCLU investment society conference today. “Find out what you like, and I don’t just mean financial services. Get as much experience as you can in as many industries as you can to find out what you really enjoy.”

Lavelle echoes Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, who’s long been saying that students need to chill out and explore. “To succeed, you have to be a complete person. In the early part of your life you should focus a lot on being a complete person,” suggested Lloyd back in 2013. 

The idea, as Lavelle explains it, is not to take your foot of the gas. If you want to be among the 4% or so of students who make the cut for investment banks’ graduate programmes you need to be focused on this goal from the moment you start university. Instead, he says the point is to ensure that you’ve had enough different experiences to really inform the decision you make before accepting an investment banking job. The churn in the junior investment banking ranks currently suggests that not everyone accepting the jobs has made the most informed choice.

Lavelle said that when he started out in investment banking 26 years ago, he didn’t really have a clear idea of what he wanted to do. Having a linear plan is not the answer, he suggests. Until last year, he was head of equity capital markets at Citi, but was promoted to his current role in July 2015. He was made managing director at Citigroup at the age of 26.

“I knew that I wanted to work in financial services, work with interesting people and travel the world,” he said. “All of those things are true today.”

Lavelle’s views are perhaps a little surprising, considering the competition banks are facing from the likes of Google and Facebook for the best graduate talent. He says that investment banks are alive to the threat, but graduates are still interested in banking.

“The CVs we’re getting now are the best we’ve ever had,” he says. “I’m not complacent that it’s harder to attract the very best talent from the large technology companies and others, but we’re receiving hundreds, if not thousands of applications for the jobs we have.”

Lavelle admits he’s “evangelical” about the industry. “It’s great industry, it’s great fun, you can do it for a long time,” he said. “It can be intellectually rewarding and it can be financially rewarding.”

Lavelle also played down the impact of Brexit on Citi’s recruitment. Citi wouldn’t reduce hiring or cut heads in Europe as a direct result of Brexit, he said. Citi was moving people out of London into cheaper locations anyway, into centres in Derby and Belfast in the UK. “There are more cost-effective places than London to base people, and from their perspective, the cost of living is lower.”

“We don’t know how many people will be incrementally reduced as a result of Brexit. It may be zero, but it will probably be a modest number – in the hundreds.”

Contact: pclarke@efinancialcareers.com

Photo: Getty Images

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