Many of the reviewers of Kevin Roose's new book Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street's Post-Crash Recruits express surprise about the character, nature and motivations of the eight New York investment banker recruits Roose shadowed for three years. One blogger referred to them as "dorks". Others speculated that being members of the Millennial generation explains their attitudes towards the banking careers into which they were recruited.
I loved Roose's book. It was a great idea and well written. It also makes many valid points about the work environment of investment banking analysts during their first year or two on the job. One issue I have with the book , however, is that it generalizes bankers. Banking and finance provides an incredibly diverse field of careers and not all bankers should be painted with the investment banker analyst brush. Analyst jobs of the type Roose describes represent a minority of banking jobs overall.
It's also worth noting that some of the ambivalence Roose describes existed before the financial crisis. I was struck by how much in common the Young Money bankers had with the young people I have encountered entering the field of banking.
I spent a year as a big bank recruiter on major college campuses in Texas in the mid-90s. The young people I recruited were of a pre-crash generation and they were hired into corporate, commercial and management banking jobs.
Interestingly, what I saw of young people entering banking during my recruiting time wasn't significantly different from the backgrounds of the elite recruits described in Young Money. The graduating students in Texas wanted and needed a job. They worried there wouldn't be enough jobs to absorb all the students graduating that year. In most cases, their parents had financed their college years and the students were feeling pressure to get off Mom and Dad's payroll and prove they were full-fledged adults. I cannot recall a single example of a student whose motivation was to get rich before the age of 30 by going to work for a bank.
The students who lined up to be interviewed most often could not articulate what they wanted to be or do five years down the road in their careers. The idea of entering a one-to-two-year training program in a big bank was a welcome solution. They saw it as a way to gain more training and have time to decide what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives before having to actually fly solo.
They were young and vulnerable and wanted their parents and grandparents to be proud of them. They needed to be able to make a living after graduation, the same characteristics Roose found in his eight graduates.
As the person leading the big bank recruiting team, I had two primary objectives on campus: 1) identify the best of the college's students graduating that year and 2) beat the competition in hiring that talent. To accomplish those objectives, we used several tactics. My big bank provided the resources that allowed the executives on the recruiting team to make a splash on campus. We held by-invitation-only welcome receptions and entertained with highly produced videos. I recall one recruiting video that had an Olympics sports theme. The "thrill of victory, agony of defeat" message and visuals had the students near tears before the program even began.
In addition to a year or two in an on-the-job training program, a career in banking provided a slightly higher base salary than other industries. The competitive salary wasn't designed to make anyone rich, but rather to ensure we beat the competition in hiring the best students on campus.
Finally, we presented the students with the opportunity to work in an industry that made a difference in society. Banks provided financing for aspiring consumers, small businesses, corporations and communities. If anything the recruits were attracted by the possibility of becoming pillars in their communities.
The motivations of the Young Money recruits in Roose's book were not significantly different from those of the generation before them.
As recruiters, we didn't have to dangle huge bonuses as an incentive to become a banker. We dangled good jobs, additional training in transferable skills and the ability to make a positive impact on local communities. And, yes, we offered a slightly higher starting salary than the competition.
We always had more candidates than we had open slots for new recruits.
What is different today is that the actions of a minority of bankers, motivated solely by enriching themselves at the expense of customers, company and industry reputation, have saddled the finance sector with a greedy, ethics-challenged image that has become a challenge to recruiting the best and brightest talent.
The nature of banking jobs is evolving in today's environment. Fewer jobs, more regulations and technological advances are all factors impacting the industry's jobs. But, the need to attract the best people remains a constant.
Young people deciding today which career path to take are still attracted to jobs that provide the ability to grow, learn, add value to the world and earn a good salary. Banking certainly has challenges to overcome, but we can still compete on those terms.
Noma Bruton is the chief human resources officer of Pacific Mercantile Bank in Costa Mesa, Calif. She has over 20 years of banking experience and writes the HR Sagacity: Insights in Banking & Finance blog.