If you’re an unemployed, underpaid, morally ambivalent banker or ex-banker who’s fed up with the grunge of Wall Street or the City of London, you could be forgiven for thinking that Edward Snowden was onto a good thing.
By most measures, Snowden – the man currently holed-up in a Hong Kong hotel after blowing the whistle on U.S. surveillance systems – was very well paid. Despite not going to university, he earned a salary of $200k (£131k) in 2012 – placing him in the top 5% of American earners. Even better, while he earned this salary Snowden lived and worked in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The good news is that financial services professionals who want to work for the security services should have plenty of opportunity to do so – and not just because the CIA wants to ply them with alcohol and extract secret information. Recruiters said the security services and financial services firms need similar skills. “High frequency traders need to analyse large volumes of data,” said Dominic Connor, a quant headhunter at QFS in London. “Hedge funds also have a need for advanced text processing techniques like sentiment analysis so that they can use news feeds to identify trading opportunities.”
Snowden was touting his services to the US National Security Agency (NSA) as a contractor via Booz Allen Hamilton. In the UK, the NSA’s equivalent is Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham. Neither Booz Allen Hamilton nor GCHQ were immediately able to respond to requests for comments for this article.
GCHQ’s careers website is unfortunately closed for maintenance at the moment, meaning any jobs on offer there are obscured. The bad news for British bankers thinking of becoming spies is that the U.K. monitoring agency is said to be a very modest payer indeed. Last year, it advertised an entry-level code-breaking job for just £25k. “There are a lot of people at GCHQ earning £70k, but very few who earn six figures,” said one quant recruiter. Frustrated with the pay, he said GCHQ quants commonly quit Cheltenham to come work in the City. Deloitte partner, Richard Hurley and Iain Gravestock, a partner at KPMG, both have GCHQ experience, as does Ben Mills, a programme manager at Lloyds. Mills declined to comment for this article and Hurley and Gravestock weren’t available.
Although British GCHQ pays poorly, Snowden’s package suggests lucrative spook-work is to be found in the U.S. The good news is that Booz Allen is definitely hiring: it’s currently advertising 13 jobs in Hawaii and over 1,000 jobs in total. Subject to security clearance, Wall Street mathematicians and computer programmers with experience of data mining and data analysis can always apply for such jobs at Booz Allen as ‘geographic information systems analysts’, ‘data scientists’ or ‘intelligence analysts.’
Even better, while investment banking jobs are usually heavily oversubscribed, the chart below from Google Trends suggests Booz Allen Hamilton may have had problems attracting staff in recent years. This could all change now that financial services refugees have been alerted to the large packages on offer there.