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Guest comment: Big banks are not always best

Top banks are all very well, but the so-called ‘second tier’ also has plenty to offer, says Chris Mead, regional director at Hays Banking in Asia.

Given their size, diversity of products and business lines, global office network, extensive training programmes and budgets, top-tier investment banks have plenty in their favour. They usually offer more opportunities for career mobility and they also offer exposure to a more diverse range of banking products and business lines due to their size and global coverage.

But second-tier banking careers can be just as fruitful and rewarding as those in the traditional top global investment banks. Second-tier investment banks that focus on boutique markets will typically provide exposure to niche products and business lines that the top tier does not.

However, careers in second-tier banks are often a lot broader in scope. In a top-tier bank, your role is likely to focus on a specific operational function. At a smaller or second-tier house, job responsibilities are often more diverse as each member of the smaller team has a wider workflow. This allows for the development of a broader range of skills.

With smaller staff numbers, smaller houses also offer more potential to impress and progress your career quickly, although this is dependant on the individual – if you are driven and motivated, your career will develop strongly in either tier.

Don’t, however, opt for a second-tier bank on the assumption that the workload will be less.

While the working hours were once much longer in top-tier banks, the differentiation between top-tier and second-tier hours is now minimal, with top-tier hours often only slightly longer due to the larger trading volumes. There are exceptions, but these are dependant on the particular role rather than the size of the bank; the working hours of a product controller supporting a trading desk in London or Tokyo for example will need to reflect the trading hours in the UK or Japan.

Finally, the all-important question: pay. While top-tier banks still offer larger salaries, in light of current skills shortages a recent trend has been for second-tier banks to offer a salary in excess of the market rate to secure a solid candidate. They may be diminutive in size, but small banks are starting to pay big.

A key point to consider is that any employer will offer unique cultures and career opportunities and you need to determine the culture which suits you best. Some people can adapt to the environment of a top-tier bank and some cannot. Similarly, some can adapt to the environment of a second-tier bank and some cannot. Ultimately, a bank’s attractiveness depends on how well its opportunities and business aligns with the individual’s own circumstances and goals.

Comments (4)

  1. How do you classify top-tier and second-tier banks in Australia?

  2. Anonymous: The best way of distinguishing the top tier from the 2nd tier is looking at where banks are positioned on league tables – which will vary from sector to sector. The top five or so players can be considerd top tier. According to Thomson Financial, the top M&A players in Australia in the 2nd quarter of this year were (in descending order): Macquarie, UBS, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Citi….

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  3. Interesting that Hays feel like they can comment on banking recruitment. The only jobs they fill are in the post room

  4. agree with anonymous 1, top tier and second tier are comments generally only used by recruiters, financial institutions vary largely in strength of products being offered and markets they operate in. It adds very little value to provide such sweeping generalisations.

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