The 10 places global finance professionals most want to work. - And why

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Investment banks and financial services firms talk a good talk when it comes to corporate social responsibility. Goldman Sachs runs 10,000 Women, its program for female entrepreneurs, J.P. Morgan aims to source all its corporate power sustainably by 2020, Morgan Stanley runs a global volunteer month each June. Similarly, banks today place a lot more emphasis on flexible work, manageable working hours and perks like gym membership.

While these initiatives might be good for current employees, our research suggests they won’t do much to attract new ones: when most people in finance assess their Ideal Employer, they’re interested in five things: money, prestige, opportunities for promotion, how interesting the work is, and how “positive” the culture is. Working hours and corporate social responsibility may feed into culture, but they’re not exactly front of mind when finance professionals are choosing where to work.

For the 3rd year running, we asked 6,000 eFinancialCareers users globally to vote on their preferred employers. The 2018 top ten are shown in the chart below. The number one spot went to Goldman Sachs, followed in second third and fourth places by J.P. Morgan, Google and Morgan Stanley respectively. Eight of the ten top slots went to banks. One went to the world’s largest asset manager (BlackRock). Google is clearly the anomaly. European banks like Barclays and Deutsche Bank are conspicuous for their absence. By comparison, the Swiss banks – UBS and Credit Suisse – have better employer brands among our users than their European rivals, but are trumped by the likes of Citi and HSBC.

The employer brand behemoth

Goldman Sachs’ presence at the top of the 2018 Ideal Employer list marks a return to pole position for the firm, which ranked first in 2016 but was trumped by J.P. Morgan in 2017. Goldman’s resurgence follows its year of declining market share in fixed income trading and is testimony to the enduring power of its employer brand. In the investor letter accompanying the 2017 Goldman Sachs annual report, CEO Lloyd Blankfein said over 80% of people offered jobs at the firm accepted, and that Goldman has been working hard to diversity its intake. Getting into Goldman Sachs is becoming harder though: the firm hired more than 6,000 people in 2017, down from 9,700 two years earlier.

Scarcity aside, what makes jobs at Goldman Sachs so popular? People who named Goldman Sachs their Ideal Employer valued the five features mentioned above (money, prestige, promotion, interesting work and positivity), but they considered the firm particularly strong in two key dimensions: pay (salaries and bonuses) and executive leadership. By comparison, the perception among respondents was that Goldman ranked comparatively weakly for manageable working hours, transparent communications, and corporate values. This didn’t matter: our respondents wanted to work there anyway.

Why finance professionals think they want to work for Google

Ranking behind Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan was considered to have more manageable working hours and more flexible working options, but lower pay. In fourth place, Morgan Stanley was perceived to offer more flexible working options than both Goldman and JPM, but lost out on the more important dimensions of pay, opportunities for promotion, and interesting work.

The cuckoo in the nest of Ideal Employers named by our respondents is clearly Google, the only tech firm on the list. Google owes its inclusion to its perceived strength in terms of pay (salary rather than bonus), prestige (81% of respondents ranked Google an industry leader; just 73% ranked J.P. Morgan similarly), interesting work (81% for Google versus 69% for Morgan Stanley), and its positive culture (73% for Google, 43% for Goldman Sachs). Google was rated comparatively highly, too, for its innovation, its office environment and its working hours. Despite Marissa Mayer’s famous claim that 130 hour weeks were what got Google off the ground when she was the firm’s 20th employee in 1999, 60% of the people who named Google their ideal employer thought the working hours there are manageable (compared to the just 17% who thought similarly for Goldman Sachs). – If millennial employees start ranking innovation, office environment and working hours more highly, Google can be expected to rise higher up the Ideal Employer list in future.

Where does this leave other banks and finance firms? Our respondents suggest the big universal banks (Citi, HSBC and Bank of America) that have retail arms alongside brokerage and advisory businesses, are less aspirational than the historically ‘pure investment banks’ of Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and Morgan Stanley (of course, all three also have retail operations now, but it’s the legacy brand that seems to matter). European banks don’t get a look in – except for HSBC (which is strongest in Asia) and the two Swiss banks of UBS and Credit Suisse, which rank eighth and tenth and are perceived to offer less interesting work, fewer opportunities for promotion and to pay less - despite some indications to the contrary, particularly when it comes to pay.

Perceptions and reality 

More than anything else, then, the 2018 Ideal Employer Ranking suggests employer brand is like an oil tanker: a cumbersome mass of sometimes misconceived perceptions which, once pointing in a particular direction, can be tough to turn around. Goldman Sachs, for example, scored very highly for bonuses in this year’s survey – despite cutting compensation spending by 32% quarter-on-quarter in the final three months of 2017. Similarly, some people might question Goldman’s high score for executive leadership following a year in which the firm was criticized for failing to invest quickly enough in electronic trading or diversity away from institutional clients, and in which a new CEO-in-waiting emerged after a long battle between the current CEO’s lieutenants.

If finance firms want to attract top staff, the 2018 Ideal Employer Survey suggests the merits of communicating clearly across a few key narratives. Pay remains the deciding factor. Prestige (being seen as an industry leader), promotion and interesting work, are all key too. It’s hard to imagine that the work done by bankers at Bank of America is that much less interesting than the work done by bankers at Goldman Sachs – and yet BofA ranks a full 15 percentage points lower. If BofA wants to rank ahead of Goldman this year, it might want to encourage its employees to broadcast the excitement and challenge of their daily routines. Employer brand can be changed, but it takes time. With 11 months until next year’s survey there’s not a moment to lose.

View the complete 2018 eFinancialCareers Ideal Employer Rankings

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