That is changing. As a result of industry mergers and other market factors, recent big hirers on Wall Street are not the top name U.S. investment and universal banks, but a handful of ambitious international players. Do the likes of HSBC, BNP Paribas, ABN Amro and Barclays Capital have what it takes to retain new staff against their home-grown rivals? How do the cultures compare?
"Genuinely international career opportunities" is the refrain of Keith Yardley at HSBC Securities in Manhattan. Yardley is head of US campus recruiting and talent management at the firm, which is two years into a hiring spree that has added dozens of senior recruits since the start of the year. "Most of the people who come to work for us are attracted by our ability to move them internationally," he says.
The attraction for graduates is obvious - the chance to embrace a career which will give them the chance to travel and see the world at the same time as gaining valuable work experience.
Rightly or wrongly, 'foreign' banks are perceived as having a more distinct and welcoming culture than many U.S. organizations. Gary Goldstein, Chief executive of the Whitney Group, comments: "Many of the great American banking cultures have been pretty much destroyed. It's one of the faux-pas of the past few decades. Banking used to be a very clubby industry, where people identified with the firm they work for. Not any more."
Recruiters who bemoan the loss of Wall Street cultures tend to sing a similar tune: mergers change corporate culture, and sometimes a bank's business edge, for the worse. European banks seem to have largely escaped this stigma, and global players, such as HSBC and UBS, have managed to maintain their corporate identities in spite of explosive growth.
Pros and Cons of Globe-Trotting
Graduates with wanderlust can find themselves in places like Paris, Amsterdam, London, or Shanghai while they learn the ropes. It's undoubtedly alluring to contemplate a day's work while you munch your croissant and sip your coffee in one of Paris's many boulevard cafes, or nip out for a quick dim sum from a hawker stall in China.
The downside for young employees is that they are often required to take examinations to comply with local regulatory demands on financial services professionals. Some of these exams require a great deal of study, which might cut down on time for enjoying the local flavour of their new place of work.
International banking may largely be conducted in English, but employees wishing to experience life in other countries will have to bone up on their languages unless they achieve a posting to an English-speaking environment. It might not be a problem at European banks for someone who's studied French or German at school, but for further-flung postings which might require Mandarin, or Japanese, or Russian it's a significant hurdle. Not being able to communicate with the local population can lead to an isolated 'ex-pat' existence, which rather defeats the purpose of visiting foreign parts.
Different cultures can be problematic for someone who has not encountered life outside America's shores - attitudes to work, strange customs and those linguistic difficulties can perplex the new kid on the block, and it takes a degree of flexibility and patience to learn the ropes.
Even the U.K., which at least shares a common language with America, can be incomprehensible to U.S. citizens at times. For starters: biscuits with tea, not gravy; jam instead of jelly; waistcoats rather than vests - along with flavours and colours and neighbours all different to those flavors and colors and neighbors back home.
However, for the young and carefree, an international career which embraces travel to exotic places, and an interesting working environment with colleagues from a multiplicity of cultures and backgrounds is an appealing challenge.