With analysts predicting that 2013 will be another bad year for investment-banking jobs, bankers on both side of the Atlantic are getting set to quit the industry rather than wait for the axe to fall.
"Financial services was once considered one of the most attractive sectors; this is no longer the case today," writes Kevin Burrowes, a partner at PwC London, in a report on the industry.
There are many reasons to give banking the boot, including layoffs, bonus freezes, stress, long hours, and increased pressure from management. The success of Escape the City – a British career-change website established in 2009 by two former bankers – sums up the new zeitgeist. Most of its 100,000 subscribers hail from London’s big investment banks. (Financial News)
But unless you have enough money to take an early retirement, you will have to reuse your existing skills when you change careers. And you will need to know what new sector best suits your talents.
"Wanting change is good, but knowing exactly what you want to do is better. It’s often through a process of elimination that you find out how to go forward," says Julien Barrois, executive director at Page Personnel in France, a subsidiary of Michael Page International. There are likely to be functions, organisations or industries that you are not attracted to and never will be. So don’t be stubborn. Be pro-active in your research: often in life, you create your own opportunities. This is especially true in the case of a job search or a career change."
While some investment bankers move within financial services – into audit or hedge funds, for example – others take a one-way trip into the unknown. Below are just some of the new areas where bankers have ended up: evidence that a banking job can lead to just about anything…if you get out soon enough!
Joining technology start-ups has been a popular recent option for 30-something traders like Charles Birnbaum, who left Bank of America in 2009 to become director of mobile social network Foursquare. "The experience has motivated me more than all the money I could earn on Wall Street," he says. (Le Figaro.fr)
When Birnbaum meets former financial colleagues, they often ask whether he has a role for them at his company. "They're looking for more interesting jobs, but those who are motivated by money have no chance," he says.
More surprisingly, some intern traders have abandoned their finance careers to become teachers. After graduating, a growing number of students from top US schools have decided to join the association Teach for America to teach in difficult neighbourhoods for two years. "If you had told me that I would become a math teacher in a school in Dallas, I would have said there was no chance,” says Zachary Dearing, who has just graduated from MIT and whose CV includes stints at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs. “Here I am a leader, every day, for 46 minutes to several groups of students." (New York Times)
The success of Teach for America is not down to chance. The organisation has benefited from the crisis on Wall Street, and its hiring is modelled on ruthless Wall Street practices. "I wanted to create a company that would recruit professors as aggressively as consulting companies or investment banks," says founder Wendy Kopp. Clearly Knopp is onto a winner. Far from being seen as a last-ditch solution by employers, the association is now becoming a real passport to success.
Again, examples abound. Among the dozen employees at NGO Finance Watch – nicknamed the Greenpeace of finance – are an ex-Euroclear employee and a former forex derivatives trader. And its general secretary is none other than Thierry Philipponnat, former head of equity derivatives at Euronext, who spent 20 years in the financial sector. (Les Echos.fr)
"I know a former bank director who opened beach huts in the South of France. Some have invested in real estate, while others have dedicated themselves completely to their hobby,” says Eric Singer, the boss of headhunting firm Singer & Hamilton in Paris. (Les Echos.fr) “I didn’t see seen many career changes during other crises. This shows that even experienced professionals can no longer thrive in this industry when they are subjected to more and more pressure."