As Bank Jobs Vanish, It's Time to Be Flexible

The changes reshaping the financial services industry can be viewed as evolution.

The Depression ushered in a generation of banking regulation. Decades later came deregulation. It is now time to fine-tune the rules again.

What is new this time around is technology.

Technology means more efficient operations. That translates into fewer jobs.

Older, less efficient banking institutions are falling by the wayside.

Facing Reality

In this regard, the banking industry is no different from the manufacturing sector.

When the manufacturing sector cut hundreds of thousands of jobs in the 1980s, options were limited for those laid off. If you weren't lucky enough to be hired by another company in the industry, or eligible for retraining, you probably had to leave the industry.

The situation is the same in financial services.

If you're not hired or retrained within a few months, you may never work in the industry again. Many people from banking will have to shift to other service fields.

Many professionals who find themselves "outplaced" in the '90s choose a short-term solution to a long-term resource redeployment issue. They become "consultants" or "contractors" to their old employer, to others in the industry, or to the government (witness the surge in Resolution Trust Corp. hiring).

In doing so, they fail to face up to the long-term realities of their situation, and they do little to enhance their marketability.

The long-term issues are:

* How do you carry out a large-scale career change.

* What are the financial implications of doing so?

Many people with children and mortgage payments simply cannot afford even a short-term decline in income.

Yet putting off the inevitable may only worsen the situation.

Use What You Have

If you're one of the fortunate ones with a decent severance package, use it to the fullest.

If possible, augment it immediately by scaling back luxuries.

Leverage the time that your severance affords you. Use it to find new possibilities.

And don't limit your search to your own field. Look elsewhere, too.

For example, a commercial banker might have several options, both within and beyond financial services.

Related Jobs

Within the industry, perhaps a finance or leasing company can use your credit expertise. Could a mortgage bank take advantage of your marketing abilities?

Also, try different-size situations. If you've worked only for a big bank, explore smaller and even de novo institutions. These are real options for service-oriented bankers.

If your heart is still set on being a commercial banker for a major institution, be very flexible on geography. And be flexible early in your search; long-distance hiring takes months.

Wider Horizons

Outside of banking, try avenues you've always wanted to pursue but never thought you could: that franchise concept you've been eyeing, or that chance to jump to a new industry in a financial capacity that excites you.

Explore all your options - go "pie in the sky."

It's your quality of life. If you've always wanted to run away to Hilton Head and manage a golf or tennis shop, try contacting some about a job as a key financial person.

Why not?

This may seem ludicrous to some, cathartic to others. But remember, as bankers, we're taught to think long-term and to be relationship-oriented.

The same holds true for our careers.

Payback Time

You may have to face some difficult financial issues, but proper planning can turn a "we hate to do this to you, but . . ." conversation into the opportunity of a lifetime.

You'll need to use the relationships you've built along the way - it's payback time.

Talk to anyone who has an idea, even one that sounds half-baked.

Mr. Alan J. Kaplan is a senior consultant in the Philadelphia office of Romac & Associates, an executive recruiting firm.

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