For a generation now, jobs in finance have topped the wish lists of young people at universities around the world. When word spread that financial firms would visit campus on recruiting missions, eager applicants jostled to secure coveted interview slots.
Perceived as wealth-creation machines that stamped tickets to some lavish lifestyle, the global investment banks, in particular, caused lines to form at campus career offices where graduating students sought counsel on well-worn interview questions and best-practice tactics for making a winning impression.
As we enter this New Year, though, we are also well into a new era, one where earlier excesses look certain to be rebalanced, a process that carries enormous implications for careers. Tens of thousands of traders and bankers are jobless and looking, while their back office colleagues, also culled, pound the pavement for new opportunities. Depressed capital markets activity and declining margins continue to define the day, and functions that a few years ago represented “value-add” have been commoditized and automated out of existence.
Today, new entrants to finance come up against hiring freezes and a sea of trained, qualified professionals desperate to get back into the ‘game’, as people like to call it. Maybe more significantly, gone is the glamourous existence that many aspired to; the banks that just a few years ago were exclusive clubs are now more often seen as social pariahs, pathetically dependent on reluctant taxpayers.
Time, then, to look at fields outside of finance? Maybe, but people considering their first (or next) career moves should consider this: amidst the economic wreckage will also be realized fantastic opportunities. A productive society needs capital markets to function, after all: without markets we don’t get the gadgets we love or the cures on which we rely.
On that basis, a real revival in finance and financial careers is at least as likely as the survival of democratic capitalism.
And that is still a very good bet.