When Sergio Ermotti, group chief executive of UBS, participated in a panel discussion at the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland two years ago, he admitted there might be some interesting characters working for UBS. “Of course, there are going to be some people who are crazy. No matter how well we screen,” he told attendees.
Crazy is clearly not an ideal personality profile for a banker. So what is? Try cultivating these characteristics if you want to get ahead.
A successful career in finance is no longer all about making the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time. It requires patience. “The onset of tough regulation and long vesting periods requires patience, strategic adroitness and most of all a calm, disciplined disposition,” says Graham Ward, adjunct professor of leadership at INSEAD business school in France, and a former co-head of equity trading at Goldman Sachs.
As the taint of the LIBOR and FX scandals lingers, banks are also looking a lot more closely at morality. Today’s senior bankers are more moral than senior staff in other industries. “If you don’t want to be led away in handcuffs, you need to be watchful and have a well functioning moral compass,” says Ward.
These days, getting to the top in banking is also all about empathy. Victoria Macpherson, a former fixed income saleswoman at BNP Paribas-turned coach, says banks are much more alert to the need for empathetic managers than in the past. “Banks are spending a lot more time educating potential leaders about the impacts of their actions on those around them,” she says. “Leading in a bank is no longer about being bossy and aggressive, it’s about empowering other people, bringing them on, coaching your team…”
Like it or not, you’ll also need be able to focus on the nitty-gritty. Especially as a junior. Especially in IBD.
The head of recruitment at one investment bank, speaking off the record, said that when they screen for new hires, they look for people who can produce justifiable reasons for reaching a decision. “It’s not just about the outcome of a decision, but the thought process they’ve been through. The people we hire need to be able to demonstrate that they’ve considered all the possible consequences,” he said.
Another recruiter said it’s not just about reasoned opinions. “When we’re hiring, we want people who are able to give their own ideas, to back them up with reasoned opinions and to listen and accept other people’s views in a considered way. Collaboration is important in banking,” he said.
Extreme congeniality is also good. “We’re looking for a kind of ‘dinner party intelligence’ – for people who are interesting and insightful and are good company,” said the head of recruitment. “It’s about being able to work a room – or a small group of people,” he added.
When former colleagues praised ex-Deutsche Banker and current UK business secretary Sajid Javid in the Guardian recently, it wasn’t just because he was, “very, very clever.” He was also praised for being an “avoider of conflict” who was not “aggressively ambitious.” And yet, Javid made it to managing director at Deutsche. Banking is known for being a political industry, but sometimes playing politics is about being as nice as possible, not elbowing people out of the way.
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