Victoria Macpherson knows about finance and she knows about finance professionals. She was a fixed income salesperson at SocGen and BNP Paribas for nearly 10 years, and she was a fixed income headhunter for 17 years. Now she’s a coach, and she specializes in helping people for whom finance is no longer “fun”.
“For my generation, the City was a fun place to be,” says Macpherson. “We made money and we were able to take risks. Not in a bad way, it was an unrestricted place to be.”
Eight years after the crisis, Macpherson says the City has become boring and that the juxtaposition isn’t playing well with those who remember when it wasn’t. “There’s more red tape and people are paid less. Because of this it’s become a lot more difficult to motivate people. If you’re a senior manager you’re having to spend a lot more time on people issues. Some have just had enough.”
It’s not easy to shed a financial services career like a shriveled skin, however. People in finance work so hard that when the time comes to quit, they’ve usually had no time to reflect on what they would do instead, says Macpherson. And when they put their heads above the parapet, the landscape can look strange and unfamiliar.
“People in the City have a huge work ethic,” she says. “You’re surrounded by very high calibre, energetic, organized people. That becomes part of your DNA and it’s a shock when you leave and people outside don’t respond when they said they would, or don’t deliver something on time.”
Finance refugees need to re-orientate slowly, says Macpherson: “You don’t spend 10 or 20 years working in the City and find a whole new career in 18 months. It takes time.”
Macpherson says a common mistake is for people who leave finance to look around for alternatives, fail to find anything, and silently slip back into banking. “They usually go back for a two or three year stint and then get out again.”
This can be avoided if you’re willing to be patient and are realistic about the world beyond the mirrored towers. “When you leave, you will need to explore,” says Macpherson. “There’s a whole world out there and you probably haven’t had the space or emotional energy to even think about it while you were in banking. It’s going to take a year or two to adapt.”
Money isn’t a priority for most senior people who leave finance, but it can still be a sticking point. Macpherson says ex-bankers are dissuaded from starting new careers by their expectations of high compensation from the outset. “If you’re saying you’re need to make £100k+ immediately, that’s going to be pretty difficult unless you go straight back into the City. But if you give it time, you can easily make £100k in a portfolio career.”
Macpherson says ex-bankers need to be given “permission to fail.” They also need to disregard their need for money.
“It’s about having the permission to explore, to try some things that might not work,” she says. “If you want to move away from finance, the search for income needs to be taken out of the equation.”