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Age is more than just a number, especially when it’s over 40

Nearly every big bank is following the same game plan. Increase the hiring of analysts and associates while cutting costs and reducing headcount. The end result is the pruning of high-salaried senior bankers.

But unlike years ago, when people were pushed out of the industry in their fifties and sixties, the guillotine is now falling on middle-aged bankers, our new diversity survey suggests. Understandably, fear has struck the 40-year-old banker.

When asked how worried they would be that their age would be an obstacle if they were forced to find new work, roughly 85% of US bankers aged 41 to 50 said they were either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned.” One in three (32%) said they were “very concerned.”

Contrast that level of fear to that of bankers just a few years younger – people aged 36 to 40 – and the sentiment changes dramatically. Just 9% of US bankers in their late 30s are “very concerned” about their age affecting their prospects of getting a new job. It appears just a few years can make a massive difference.

The numbers are similar, albeit a bit less polarizing in the UK, where 21% of bankers aged 41 to 50 are “very concerned” that age would be an obstacle in finding new work. That number drops in half – to 10% – for people in their thirties. Of UK bankers aged 41 to 50 years, a third (33%) have felt discouraged from applying to a position on the grounds of their age.

In Asia, 40-year-olds are equally as fearful. More than 40% of Singaporean bankers aged 41 to 50 would be “very concerned” about their age during a job search. That number is 23% in Hong Kong.

Interestingly, fear over age creeps in earlier in Asia as compared to the US and UK, where the vast majority of 30-year-olds feel confident. One-quarter (25%) of Hong Kong bankers aged 36 to 40 fear age are “very concerned” that age would play a factor in their job search. Around two in 10 (21%) feel the same way in Singapore.

So why has 40 become such a key number when it comes to fear over finding a new job? Really, it’s just a reaction to the realities of the new Wall Street, says Neil Patrick, a former banker who is now the editor of 40pluscareerguru, a blog about career challenges facing baby boomers. Patrick says the confidence bankers have in themselves plays no factor in their sentiment. Rather, it’s an issue of cost and perception.

“I think there's a persistent belief amongst employers that being young, hungry and eager trumps age, wisdom and experience, even in areas where knowhow would seem to be critical,” Patrick said.

This is especially true in investment banking, where – rightly or wrongly – the perceived ability and willingness to work long hours is still critical, he said. “People in the 40+ age bracket typically have families and others view this as detrimental to their ability to commit,” he said.

Then, there’s the money angle – both in terms of how much 40-year-old bankers tend to make (why they are more prone to get let go) and how much they spend (why they are so concerned).

“Older bankers therefore feel they MUST earn a lot more simply because they need to – and that they deserve it because they've paid their dues,” Patrick said.

The end result is a host of nervous 40-year-olds who understand their reality all too well. In the current market, they are expensive and expendable.



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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • ma
    18 September 2014

    I couldn't agree more. I completed a top MBA program at the age of 48. But when I sent out hundreds of resumes to top financial firms, even for jobs that I had done before, a received no calls. I was floored.

  • Ni
    Niall Firinne
    18 September 2014

    As a former bank and now structured finance consultant it has always shocked me how obsessed with youth and the automatic binning the CVs of anybody over 45/50. This nothing really new and has been happening progressively since the early 1990s. Why? Certainly not cost, look at the salaries paid to recent grads who come into the business.Compensation structures in the financial industry are obscene. I think it is more to do with the two biggest growth areas in banks, the cost centres of HR and Compliance. HR used to be run by bankers who rotated through for the experience, assisted by a core of professionals. No longer the case, with increasing legislation, HR has become the domain of very young, often women and people with psychology degrees. Very bright people no doubt, but no clue about finance and banking. In the end they hire and shape the organisation into their mold and older experienced professionals who no longer look right are out. Replacing them are people who are exceptional with numbers, pcs and black boxes but know little about business, finance, markets, risk and people. Hence the financial disaster we are just emerging from. Banks should value and where possible take on experience and nurture younger members of staff until they gain experience and judgement.

  • Je
    18 September 2014

    Yes I agree with the thrust of this article from personal experience.

    I am 56 now (not that it should matter....) and have been looking for either contract work or a permanent position since February this year. I had a successful 9 month assignment managing a project for a bank in London last year, but prior to that had worked overseas for HSBC for most of my career.

    So I have the age challenge, and also that of credibility within the UK! No matter my argument that my skills are transferable, agencies and recruiters just do not seem to accept my experience is valid. Employers also seem very parochial when faced with a choice of candidates, and I am left with the impression that they dont really know what they want.

    I should be an asset to a company at this stage in my life, with a braod CV and experience, and raring to make a contribution and get things done.


  • Re
    18 September 2014

    I agree with you all that there is a problem among many employers although it wary from country to country.

    Personally when I am met by a so called "senior" banker, office clerk, etc.... and realise that they are not a day older than lets say 35, I tend to laugh and ask for a real senior.
    If I shop for a suit or similar I also tend to look for a senior, who understand how a man of my age should dress, as I do not want to look like an elderly man desperate to look 20 years younger :-).

    How should a kid without any life experience be able to help me with my issues. No, I want someone I can use as a sparring partner, not just a green youngster freshly out of university.

    But what can YOU do?

    Just take this as a mind experiment: If everybody started to react as I do (and keep in mind that the average age of the western population is rising), I am pretty sure that employers would change attitude towards people above 40-50-60 and the end result will be that there will be a job for everybody, who is willing to work, whether they are 55 or 65. The losers however will be the youngest ones as they won't be able to jump so fast on everyone in their path. But on the other hand I think this is how it was when I was a kid and had to work my own way up in the hierarchy. I survived.

    So all in all it won't help blaming everybody else, instead spread the word and ACT NOW!

  • LI
    17 September 2014

    My problem is I am 65 yes it is a problem. For instance lets talk about non banking jobs and some volunteering jobs.
    giving your free time to as a special constable ( a voluntary job with the same powers as regular police ) now most counties will take any one from over 18 to any age providing you are fit and can pass the fitness test but the metropolitan, British transport police will not , they are allowed to discriminate and the fitness test discriminates females as it is a fact males can run faster as they don't have the extra weight as women have to have to carry a baby in the womb for 9 months , BMI tests women are also discriminated .
    women will always be discriminated against regardless of age and you can forget the age discrimination laws as the employers will always get around that..
    Why is there never been female as the head of the bank of England is there no woman in England/UK good enough in the bank's eyes or do we have to have and American male in charge.
    It is not just women over 40 its women over 55 and when we reach 65 that it for us , females are banned from applying for paid jobs at the ripe old age of 55/ 65 and are forewarned with zimmer frames and ear trumpets and smelling of heat rubs to join the bingo or WI groups , not that there is nothing wrong with bingo or the WI. women over 65 are doomed . Men however the gray haired types who wear suits can join such clubs as spearmint rhino to goggle at strippers but where are the clubs for women , anyone tell me ?
    Nope this world is going backwards in time or simply stopped dead in it tracks for women over 40, 50 or 60.

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