There are two distinct camps when it comes to young people in the workplace: “Kids these days are soft, entitled, lazy job-hoppers” vs. “Millennials have had an uphill battle entering the workforce in the wake of the financial crisis and get a bad rap.”
Which side is closer to the truth when it comes to millennials working in financial services?
Ex-J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch and HSBC banker Spencer Lake rose to vice chairman and group general manager of global banking and markets of the latter before retiring from banking in 2016. He's now an investor, adviser and board member of fintech startups.
Lake says some of criticisms leveled against millennials are valid, but he sympathizes with them too.
“I’m working with lots of fintech companies with employees who are young,” Lake says. “There’s a stereotype that these kids are spoiled and not very hard working, but you do have a very aspirational Asian population with a very strong work ethic and drive to succeed, which is different from Americans and Europeans who have grown up in a very privileged way."
Asian millennials are the go-to group when senior managers want to get something done, says Lake. "I’ve seen that at banks and across the board – versus the more privileged Westerners growing up as a coddled group,” he says. “They are a little bit less aspirational and I think that it does play out in the workplace.”
Young people also have the reputation for hopping from one job to another, with some investment banking analysts looking to jump to the buy side or a fintech firm earlier than ever before.
“Millennials, and in this case I'm thinking of investment banking analysts in particular, do seem to think of their job as a stepping stone, always looking at their next landing spot rather than striving to climb the ladder internally,” says a managing director at a Wall Street bank who asked to remain anonymous. “Many IB analysts reach out to buy-side recruiters almost immediately after they've finished their training, or they have an eye toward grad school but with no intention of returning to banking like previous generations.”
Another common complaint is millennials’ sense of entitlement and “everyone gets a trophy” mentality.
“Millennials seem to need a bit more hand-holding and positive feedback than our generation, who were taught to keep your head down, work hard, do what you're told, don't question senior bankers and you'll eventually be rewarded," says an investment banking executive director in New York. "Obviously the culture on Wall Street has changed since I came up, with juniors encouraged to speak their mind, and somewhat less tolerance for asshole line managers who fly off the handle, not that they're extinct or anything."
The same MD says juniors are too plaintive, whilst accepting that this may be justified.
“For banks opting for juniorization and making senior bankers redundant to cut costs, they’re potentially putting more on juniors' plates than they can handle, at least with any semblance of work/life balance,” he says. "Some millennials have legitimate gripes, although my generation would've probably just bitten our tongues, while a minority of juniors are seriously entitled or even spoiled."
“When I was at a bank, I found them to be hardworking, and now that I’m focusing on fintech, these millennials are hardworking too,” says Lake. But with hard work, comes an awareness of the consequences which former bankers were more likely to suppress. “This generation is into wellness," concludes Lake. "hey want the workplace to be better and more accouterments given to them as part of the process than when I was coming up, but I’m not saying that’s good or bad.”
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