Where Will All the Ex-Bankers Go?

Banking employment is shrinking - and if a recent report by Andersen Consulting is on target, many of these jobs will never return.

By 2000, there will be 20% fewer banking jobs than now. "The Golden Age of banking will not return," Andersen concludes.

Finding the Jobs

Where will the people who had banking jobs get new employment? And what about the generation that is following: What will substitute for bank employment?

This is a question that deserves ever more serious attention as industry after industry downsizes and becomes more efficient in its use of people.

What we must realize first is that in an era of economic prosperity many companies hired too many people. Each six or seven new employees on the front line needed a manager behind them, whether there was anything for the manager to manage or not.

Job Security a Given

It was an era of "entitlements," a time when everyone felt he or she was entitled to the job. Whether what they did was useful or not, if they were loyal, filled in the day with paperwork, and didn't make waves, they were entitled to their job, their pay increases, and their benefits for life.

No industry can afford this luxury any more. So the decline in bank jobs is not an exception but rather falls within the parameters of today's employment trends.

Where will the jobs be in the years ahead?

First and foremost, as far as the private sector is concerned, we are likely to see job growth in smaller enterprises. The days of large offices with vast hoards of people at desks have been outmoded by the computer terminal.

This is the result of new techniques such as electronic data interchange that allow computer to talk to computer without the need for large staffs to massage the data.

In banking, we see this trend evidence itself also in the rapid growth of small service companies that cater to banks. These companies provide their services with fewer employees than a bank would need if it were to try to accomplish the task in - house. In addition, we are bound to see more development of jobs in services that at present have less stature than jobs in finance do.

Other Paths Taken

When a banker cries to me that his son has become a forester or a chef rather than a banker, I respond by asking, "Is he happy?"

The usual response is: "He loves it. But what kind of a job is that for a college educated man?"

Our problem here is simply that these other jobs have not developed the public stature that banking has. That is the only drawback.

These jobs usually require as much energy, talent, and intelligence as finance does, if not more. It is just that a parent is usually unhappy to report that after giving his child years of education, that child is worrying about how to turn out a souffle rather than a loan.

Talk to your car repair man today and you will find he has has as many years of training as a typical college graduate has, if not more. And the bottom line is that we need the auto repair people, while obviously there is far less need for the liberal arts grad today.

Public Versus Private Sector

But what is also becoming obvious is that the real need for people in our economy today is in the areas that we consider the public sector, even though these jobs have a bad name in the minds of many.

For the past 11 years we have conducted cuts in public sector spending, while boosting funding to the private sector.

This has been accomplished through a tax structure that has curbed funds for states and local governments and also left federal government operations with record deficits.

Yet look where our needs are: education, safe streets, rebuilding the infrastructure, health care for the poor, and aid for the less advantaged. These are public sector chores, yet all have been severely curtailed by the lack of available funds.

It's true that much of the public sector is inefficient, and that we have seen the worst of our entitlement attitude in public sector jobs. And there's also been very little downsizing; an attitude persists among that sector's work force that a job is for life, come what may.

But if we fail to deal with public needs because we feel that the delivery system of public services is poor, then we're making a mistake.

Money to the Millionaires

This helps explain why a Mike Milken can get a $550 million bonus in one year and Salomon Brothers can have 106 people each earning over $1 million a year, while our cities and towns go begging.

This then is the challenge: How can we get the efficiency that we are now building into the private sector instilled in the public sector?

Or else, how can we transfer public sector chores to the private sector, so we can put our money to greater use where our needs are most urgent.

What seems likely is that with so many people being "outplaced" from banking and other private sector jobs and so many others who are now entering the job pipeline and unable to gain challenging employment, the push to transfer public sector needs to private sector delivery systems will gain a strong impetus.

That's because those who have lost their opportunity to gain private sector jobs have not lost their opportunity to vote.

Mr. Nadler is a contributing editor of the American Banker and professor of finance at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.

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