Many students – especially those studying commerce subjects – express an interest to work for a bank or finance company one day. When asked why they want to work in that industry the answer is almost always the same: “the money!” The first response to that is no one should ever choose a career just for the pay. It may be hard for a student to realize this when young but working in an industry that may pay well but is unfulfilling in other aspects can lead to a life of misery. This certainly does not mean that banking and finance is not a fulfilling career, but it is vital that students consider all the other aspects of the industry before choosing it.
A large and growing industry
Of course, a career in “banking and finance” certainly does not just mean working in a branch office of a commercial bank. The finance industry covers a multitude of jobs ranging from fund management to pensions, stock broking, insurance, accounting and consultancy - not to mention government work which ranges from the Ministry of Finance to a nation's central bank. Of course, one can also work in the finance department of a company or as an economist. One can even work in financial journalism or some other analytical position. Even within banking there is Retail banking, Commercial banking and Investment banking. Moreover, across all of Asia this is a rapidly growing industry as well.
And, if nothing else, one of the best pieces of career advice ever is to start out in a growing industry because a declining or “sunset industry” will always be beset by job losses, falling pay with few prospects of promotion, no matter how capable the employee may be.
The first thing to consider is the income one can earn in banking. While it is certainly true that some people enjoy enormous incomes in finance, the vast majority of employees in the industry toil away at relatively turgid jobs on very modest salaries. The press and media are full of stories of “millionaire bankers” and huge “bankers' bonuses” but, those starting out in the industry should keep their expectations modest. Like sports and celebrities, such huge rewards are available to the fortunate few.
Banking is of course likely to offer a relatively secure job prospects to the hard working and diligent employee. After all, public demand for financial services is likely to only keep rising and banks will always need reliable, competent people. No doubt, anyone in the industry will have to be very numerate and literate. However, this does not mean that one needs to be a maths genius. Some of the most successful bankers in the world did their degrees in arts and humanities subjects like history, philosophy or languages. This is because, at the end of the day, banking is a people business, not a numbers business. Banking operates on trust and intelligent understanding of risk. While measuring risk does involve the sciences (ie, statistics) at the end of the day it is very much an art.
Furthermore, to reach the top of banking one must be proficient in managing employees and customers. This does not just mean pouring through balance sheets and Net Present Value calculations, it means understanding people's business, their characters, their family, the competition, the industry and economic and social trends. While good bankers must be intelligent – they must be interesting people as well! The ability to converse easily in subjects such as art and literature, history, travel, etc is vital to developing good long term relationships.
Within the bank, the “fast track” is reserved with those with a good understanding of organizational behavior. That involves knowing how to get along with people, how to manage ones emotions and dealing with “COA”: Complexity, Overload and, above all, Ambiguity! This is where those with just academic ability fall down because few if any of those vital skills comes from a textbook. (Indeed, many academically able people tend to struggle with the constant ambiguity found in business in general and senior management in particular.)
While good bankers must be empathetic, they must also make hard decisions. This can be a brutal part of the industry and any senior banker will be able to tell you of very regretful decisions they have had to make. Whether it is denying a family a mortgage or shutting down a whole company, watching people weep as their hopes and dreams are wiped out by a lack of credit and funding is a deeply unpleasant aspect of the job. Of course, a banker's top priority must always be to the institution and its depositors and shareholders and this will undoubtedly mean giving some customers news they really don't want to hear.
The biggest fear most people have is that they will end their days wondering if they wasted their life. While banking and finance can be a fulfilling as well as rewarding career, that is not the case for everyone in the industry. Yes, the incomes earned in the industry are typically above average and the expected growth in the industry makes for good career prospects but one must always think deeply before setting off in a career direction. Do you have the skills, ability, focus, and character for this type of work – or do you just want the money? If it is just the latter, then you are unlikely to achieve it. The spoils of the industry go to those with the natural professionalism and personality for the hard work the industry requires.
The writer is the Principal of Regent College, Dhaka. Prior to his career in education, he was an investment banker in London for 20 years and was a Senior Vice President at HSBC.http://prothom-alojobs.com/index.php?NoParameter&Theme=article_zone_new&Script=articleviewdetails_new&ArticleID=173