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Are your 20s wasted in banking?

Beyond banking

If you're a student at university today and you want to get into banking, it's time to apply. Most banks opened their analyst application processes weeks ago. Some are closing them again in the weeks to come.

But should 20-somethings really be preparing to prostrate themselves before banks' recruitment professionals? Does it make sense to spend the 'best years of your life' (in theory) working 16 hour days? Or are you better off opting for something more sedate, like the Big Four, or industry - both of which might, possibly, afford you the option of moving into banking later on?

We asked a selection of 'mature' finance professionals and ex-finance professionals to reflect retrospectively on the hard work they put into their finance careers during their 20s. Was it worth it? Do they regret the slog? This is what they told us...

Your 20s are wasted in banking if you get sucked in by the money...

As we noted last week, pay in front office banking jobs increases exponentially from the age of 25. One moment you're earning £67k ($109k). Five years later you're earning £196k ($320k).

If you're a 20-something used to living on a student budget, that kind of rise can go to your head.

"When you're in your 20s and 30s and you're getting paid that kind of big money, you don't think it's ever going to end," says Turney Duff, the ex-Morgan Stanley salesman and hedge fund trader who crashed and burned and has written a book about the process. "You start thinking you'll always be getting another pay increase and a bigger bonus. Without realizing it, you start to believe that you can buy your quality of life.

"But then, you wake up one day and all of a sudden you're 37 years old and you're like 'What happened?'" says Duff. "You realize that life is about more than making money, but money is what you've been focused on."

Banking is a maelstrom, says Duff. "Balance is very hard on Wall Street. You don't have time to reflect," he says. "Since I left the industry, it's been my experience that quality of life really comes from the inside, how you live your life and how you treat other people - rather from the kind of car you drive."

Your 20s aren't wasted in banking if you save your money to create a foundation for the future... 

We also spoke to an ex-saleswoman from Goldman Sachs who started her career at 24 and got out again aged 40. She told us those 16 years in banking freed her up to spend her 40s doing something completely different (hanging out with her family).

"Banking dominated my life in my 20s, but I don't regret it - it set me up for the financial security we have today," she said, speaking anonymously. "I was very mature in my 20s - a bit too serious, but I've sort of regressed now that I'm in my 40s. I have more fun and I worry less."

If you want to use a finance career as a platform for early relaxation, she advised that you save heavily when your pay starts increasing post-25:  "I always lived on my salary and banked or invested my bonus. We never borrowed excessively or spent more than we earned."

She also pointed out that finance professionals can be blinkered about the earning potential offered by other industries, which can also offer big paydays - but later in life. - "Not every industry is like banking. My sister sells web ads and her career didn't take off until she was 40. She's now 52 and makes big $$."

Your 20s may be wasted in banking if you're unwilling to play the corporate game 

You could also regret spending your 20s in banking if you ultimately realize that finance doesn't suit your temperament. "Banking is kind to those who are a) willing to put in the long hours and b) willing to drink the corporate Kool-Aid," says the ex-private banker behind the Banker's Umbrella blog. "Banks need loyal soldiers. If you don't submit, you don't progress," he adds.

The trouble is that switching out of banking into something else in your late 20s or mid-30s can be hard. Gaining an ACA from an accounting firm or a sector specialism from a corporate might afford you more options later in life. Bankers' Umbrella is writing a book and in the process of a career change: "I'm 10 months into changing careers. Ask me in two months how it's going," he says.

Your 20s are wasted in banking if you take it for granted that you'll be financially secure and able to work less when you get old(er)

Just because you work hard, save hard, and drink the Kool Aid, that doesn't mean your banking career will go to plan.

We spoke to one 40-something equity strategist who said his job has been, "intense work the whole way."

Don't assume that the hard work will end once you hit 30. "It's always been early mornings and late nights," he added. "In times of industry stress, you have to work harder if you're senior - you need to put the hours in when your firm isn't doing well."

He says finance can be an isolating career. "You end up with many associates, but few friends," he reflected. "Between computing, competition and ambition you end up doing a lot of things alone."

20 years in to his finance career, he says he still doesn't have the financial security he'd anticipated when he started out. "I've worked too hard and not had the quality time I'd have liked with my family, but I've had a high level lifestyle and my children have wanted for nothing."

However, this doesn't mean there are other easy options. "If you want to be a successful entrepreneur it will take an equally high level of dedicated and likely a higher level of being alone," the equity strategist adds.

Duff offers an alternative perspective. "I'd argue that you're wasting your 20s if you spend them shut in an office 70 hours a week, but you're also wasting them if you're not doing much and spending every night at the bar."


Related articles:

This is how much you should earn now as an investment banker in your early 20s

Career Quiz: Should you quit your banking job for a startup?

10 tips from the clinical psychologist teaching Goldman juniors how to live their lives







AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Ou
    Out already
    30 September 2014

    I guess it's advice you'd give anyone. Live within your means. Save for the future. Don't extrapolate your best year to all future years.

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