With tightening headcounts in banks, contract work seems to be the norm nowadays. I graduated about a year ago and I haven’t got a permanent job yet. Instead, I’ve embarked on front-office banking contract work in order to gain work experience. I often ask myself if what I’ve done is worth it, and what makes me so different from my peers who got into proper graduate programmes. I haven’t reached any conclusions, but I certainly hope my decisions have been wise.
After my two contracts at well-known firms in Hong Kong, I’m convinced I want a career in front-office banking. Nonetheless, the finance industry is now in such a bad shape that hiring graduates isn’t a priority for most banks. Many of my friends who had previously coveted front-office jobs have now moved on. Some went into commodity trading firms (which are getting increasingly competitive nowadays), while others set up their own businesses (iPhone applications, tuition centres, dessert shops, electronics dealing etc).A minority chose to work for companies in the real estate and energy industries.
So here I am, trying to clock relevant front-office experience, hoping eventually to get a full-time offer from a bank. I’m giving myself until this summer, otherwise like many of my peers, I will choose to move to another sector, which shouldn’t be too difficult given my work experience in banking,
Back to front doesn’t work
I have encountered many graduates who couldn’t get a client-facing role, but then tried out the back office hoping to find a front-office job in the future. But this isn’t really a wise decision nowadays. Apart from the reality that transferring from back to front is close to impossible, investment banks are now even thinking of outsourcing their operations, finance and IT divisions to cheaper countries such as India, Philippines and Hungary. I have a friend who was told to travel to India to teach his new colleagues there about the job, but he doesn’t even know whether he still has a position with the bank after that.
I also know auditors who quit their jobs before one year was up. Some chose to be teachers, while others became trainees in other industries, taking lower salaries in return for a relatively more exciting job scope. Hearing such stories made me decide that the big four and back-office functions of a bank are off my shopping list.
The situation now in the finance industry is that hiring budgets are tight and headcount is frozen, but there is still a lot of work to be done, especially at a junior level. So by hiring contract workers or interns, like me, salaries are not recorded on the balance sheet, giving HR more flexibility. And of course, seniors get to unload all their unwanted work onto us. I’ve given one year of my life to investment banking and I really hope things turn around soon, so I can get the proper recognition that I deserve and become a full-time employee.