Banks went looking for a few good men this week — and the PR boost to go with them.
On Thursday, a few hours before Moody's knocked around their credit ratings, some of the biggest commercial and investment banks hosted a job fair and conference to recruit military veterans. Citigroup (NYSE:C), Bank of America (BAC), Goldman Sachs (GS), Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse sponsored the second annual "Veterans on Wall Street" event, held this year in Deutsche's downtown New York atrium and the Cipriani banquet hall across the street.
Wall Street is increasingly trying to hire, and talking about hiring, military veterans, hoping that giving jobs to war heroes will help repair the industry's reputation. Bankers at the event on Thursday repeatedly thanked the attendees for their "service" and "sacrifice," and talked about their companies' commitments to hire hundreds or thousands of veterans per year.
The event was well-attended, with veterans thronging tables hosted by banks, nonprofits and other potential employers ranging from Showtime Networks and First Data to the Fire Department of New York. But the banking industry's reputation and its less-than-robust health are also complicating some hiring efforts, as executives at the event acknowledged.
"The biggest issue we have is educating [veterans] about what financial services is. This is where the misnomer 'Veterans on Wall Street' is a problem — they think Gordon Gekko," Citigroup's Suni Harford, a managing director and regional head of markets for North America, said.
For example, Citigroup considers itself "one of the largest technology companies in the world … [and has] huge security networks, which is something that military folks gravitate to," she said. "These are all things [veterans] are eminently qualified for and not necessarily something they think of when they think financial services."
Citigroup has hired 1,000 veterans so far as part of a commitment made last April, and plans to hire another 1,000 this year, but Harford acknowledged that "it's a tough economy. We're not hiring as many people as we would like to, and training programs are smaller than they've been."
The country's third-largest bank has placed more than half of its veteran hires into operations and technology roles, and Harford said many veterans are attracted to jobs in Citi's retail and call center operations outside of New York.
But despite the potentially unsavory associations, investment banking jobs remained some of the most highly sought-after at the event.
Veterans "don't mind the long hours, they like a challenge, they like the pay-for-performance environment that we've got. That attracts a lot of them to be a trader or financial advisor," said Jeff Cathey, the head of Bank of America's military affairs advisory group.
The Charlotte bank hired 500 to 1,000 veterans last year and has committed to "significantly increase" that number this year, he said, adding that many of those B of A jobs were in retail operations and call centers.
More than 50 clean-cut young men in dark suits, and a smattering of women, attended a mid-morning panel discussion on "Wall Street 101," in which bankers from Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup and others alternately praised the veterans and warned them about the rigors of life as an investment banker.
"Veterans make great employees," said Todd Haskins, a Goldman investment banker and former Marine, before warning that investment banking is "a hard, high-stress industry." He added that he worked 100 hours a week during his first few years at Goldman: "I thought of it as a deployment … a three-year deployment."
But some panelists pointed out that investment banking should be relatively low-stress for people used to combat and its casualties.
If military personnel make mistakes managing risk, "there are very real consequences," said Liam O'Neil of B of A's Merrill Lynch, who then quipped: "If you manage risk poorly at Merrill Lynch, you get bought by Bank of America."
The warnings didn't dissuade Adam Dorl, an Army veteran who spent a year in Afghanistan. Now finishing up his undergraduate degree at Ramapo College of New Jersey while working in a restaurant, he was excited after the panel about looking for a Wall Street job.
"I like the intensity," he said.