There's No Place Like Banking

Man With Bag - Steve Carboni

Surprising how many of those who had left banking (mostly unwillingly) in order to do what they always wanted to are trickling back into the industry now.

The last couple of years have not only seen a shift in how much risk banks are willing to - or allowed to - take, but also in how many people banks are willing to employ. Some areas of the industry, such as bundling up worthless assets and selling them like gold, have disappeared altogether. Others, like talking pensioners into buying long-dated equity structured notes, have simply shrunk to a size that is more appropriate for banks that are essentially governmental agencies.

With this resizing, a lot of friends found themselves out of their jobs, and, since a return into another banking job was literally impossible, exploited other options. That meant for some going back to university to study things like architecture or economics, learning to design clothes, trading on their own accounts (audaciously), or doing charitable work with less fortunate parts of society.

Closely monitoring my friends' paths I watched with a mixture of admiration and envy. I had been fortunate enough to keep my job through the crisis, and many of those activities that the ex-bankers pursued sounded tempting, but not tempting enough to give up the day job. My employer had not decided to make me embark on non-finance activities, and I didn't feel any compelling reason to pull the plug myself (though I sometimes secretly wished I had been given the push to do so).

Two years later, it is astonishing that many of those whose vitae I had wished to mimic one day - if I had only shown the courage - are returning to the industry. The architecture degree has led straight back into banking IT. Clothing design has become an evening and weekend pursuit, after the hours as a relationship manager have been put in. The charitable exploits are suddenly being confined to holiday and unpaid leave from the advisory work.

It seems that after all, leaving the industry was not a choice, but simply a temporary necessity, time that was better used for something productive than going to pointless interviews or knocking on headhunter's doors. However maligned the industry is, and however penalised it will become as a source of income, those who have been in it before certainly know now that it pays much better than most other professions.

Whilst this might not be a source of great personal satisfaction, a few years off will likely have emphasised how convenient it is to have a steady income.

Fortunately, it is also likely that the years off will have shown those on-and-off bankers that there are other things that matter in life - and that are worth pursuing - a lesson hopefully not forgotten when returning to the industry to pick up paychecks.

Because some personal growth is certainly something that banking can do with.