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10 ways to break into banking in your 30s

How can you break into banking when you're 30+?

You want a career change into banking, but you're not in the first flush of youth. Banks are known for their partiality to 20-somethings who work 100 hour weeks. So what are your chances of getting in if you're a crotchety 32-year old?

The good news is that you can break into banking in your 30s. The bad news is that you'll need to be open-minded: revenue-generating roles in M&A or on the trading floor may not be open to you. Jobs in infrastructure, strategy, or technology will be more accessible.

If you still want to change careers into banking in your 30s, here's how we suggest you go about it.

1. Study an MBA

[efc_twitter text="If you're 30 and you're starting an MBA, you're old."] Most MBA students are in their 20s. At Harvard Business School, for example, the average student is just 27. At London Business School, the average full-time MBA student is aged 29, although some there are aged up to 38.

Being in your 30s may be a hindrance to getting a job on a bank's associate program. Traditionally, most MBAs go into banks as associates and most associates are in their late 20s. "The number of plum associate jobs in investment banks has been declining for the past 10 years," says Julian Birkinshaw, a professor of strategic and international management at the London Business School. "They increasingly tend to go to younger people with prior banking experience.."

For lessons in how to move into banking as an older MBA, Birkinshaw suggests looking at the career choices of Executive MBA ('EMBA') students. Five years older than the average MBA, EMBAs typically study part time while working. Many are sponsored by their employers, but some use the course as a springboard into banking - albeit not into the associate jobs. "The world of retail banking is much more open-minded," says Birkinshaw. "Equally, investment banks will hire you into middle, back office and technology roles if you're in your 30s and you have no banking experience."

2. Switch across from law

Law is a well-trodden route into banking in the US. Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman Sachs), graduated from Harvard Law School and spent three years working for a small law firm before becoming a commodities trader. Robert Kindler, global head of M&A at Morgan Stanley, spent 20 years at US law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore before moving into M&A in 2000.

It's a lot less easy to move out of law and into banking in Europe, although it does happen. Take Myles Evanson, co-head of UK equity capital markets (ECM) at Nomura, who spent four years in law and four years as a lawyer at Nomura before moving into ECM. Equally, Matthew Sadd, head of structured credit at Unicredit, started his career in law before moving into an in-house role as a lawyer at Deutsche Bank and transferring into credit trading.

The move from law to banking won't suit everyone. In a 2006 interview, Kindler told the Wall Street Journal that bankers need to be more outgoing than lawyers: "[efc_twitter text="To be an effective banker, you need to have a good personality"]. You have to be an outgoing person and a lot of lawyers are not particularly outgoing," he observed.

3. Change careers from accounting

While the US tradition is for M&A bankers to start out in law, the UK tradition is for M&A bankers to start out in accounting. Simon Holden, the global head of telecoms banking at Goldman Sachs who started his career with eight years at a Big Four firm, is an example of this.

The reality, however, is that switching out of accounting and into M&A when you're as experienced as Holden may be a challenge. Most banks prefer to hire newly-qualified accountants rather than accountants who've been working for nearly a decade, especially if they've spent that decade in audit.

You'll find it easier to move out of accounting and into banking as a 30-something if you're not set on moving into M&A and corporate finance, and if your experience at an accounting firm is directly relevant to banks. Tax accountants have traditionally been popular with banks operating in the (controversial) structured tax market, for example. Similarly, if you were a financial services-focused audit professional at the Big Four, you will be able to find an audit position in banking.

4. Switch over from strategy consulting

Seasoned strategy consultants also reinvent themselves as bank staff.

Publicly available information suggests that Goldman Sachs employs at least 40 people from McKinsey & Co, around 25 from Bain and around 26 from Boston Consulting Group. JPMorgan employs 36 from those three firms, while Morgan Stanley employs 52 and Deutsche employs 51. Given that these banks employs tens of thousands of people, the ex-consultants there aren't exactly prolific, but consultants can clearly become employed by banks sometimes.

One ex-McKinsey consultant who now works in banking says consultants only occupy some roles in investment banks, however. "Generally, people with a consulting background will go into strategy roles in banks," he told us. "If you've got deep knowledge of particular industries, you may be able to move into M&A or corporate finance - but you'll need the financial modelling expertise. It's very difficult to move into sales or trading, but you can become a COO on the trading floor."

5. Move out of industry 

Occasionally, it may be possible to shift out of a senior corporate development or strategy role in industry and apply your industry expertise in banking. Xanyar Kamangar, a director in the technology, media and telecommunications team at Deutsche Bank, says industry experience is increasingly sought after by banks looking to hire in complex areas like technology. However, unless you move into an ambassadorial-client-relationship-type-position, most roles in M&A and corporate finance will require familiarity with financial modelling. This could prove a sticking point if your life has been spent in a senior position at Walmart.

6. Work for the regulator and then quit

Time spent working for the regulator is also a plus, but only if you want to move into a compliance role in an investment bank. Take Hector Sants, the former head of compliance at Barclays, who spent nearly at decade at the UK's Financial Services Authority (latterly as its head), before moving to Barclays on an alleged £3m package before quitting less than a year later. Or take Michael Nunan, the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA's) former head of enforcement, who quit this summer for a senior compliance role at Morgan Stanley. The tradition exists in the US too - look at Rohit Bansal, the 29 year-old ex-employee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who moved into Goldman's FIG team as a VP before being sacked for misconduct.

7. Spend time in the military and then join a veteran's programme

In the past decade, the forces have become a key channel for people wanting to shift into banking in their 30s. Most banks, including JPMorgan, Barclays, Goldman Sachs now run programs aimed entirely at hiring ex-military personnel in their 30s. You won't become an M&A banker though.

"Banks are now running their own military initiatives," says Simon Treadgold of Orion Consultancy, a recruitment firm that places ex-military personnel. "Most military people go into the operations division - skills like project management, change management, the ability to get things done are more apposite for operations than the more numeracy-heavy qualities that are required in the front office," he adds.

8. Complete a PhD in an esoteric subject of relevance to banks

A PhD can also be a route into a quantitative job in banking, regardless of your age. "A lot of guys will do their Masters, finish their PhD and then do a piece of post-doctoral research, by which time they'll be in their late 20s or early 30s," says Nathan Haynes at quant recruitment firm GQR. The subject matter of your PhD will depend upon which area of banking you plan to go into, Haynes adds. If you want to move into algorithmic trading, your PhD will be in statistical analysis or signal processing. If you want to move into complex derivatives, you're more likely to have studied physics, maths or engineering.

9. Be a world class programmer 

Banks will also hire top programmers, irrespective of age and absence of financial services experience. "If you've worked for a spread-betting company, on embedded software in satellite companies, or in a networking role at a telecoms company, you will have encountered many of the same problems that banks face. It's all about performance, latency issues, complex algorithms and a low fall-over rate," says Dean Looney at recruitment firm NJF Search. "[efc_twitter text="It's a lot easier to teach someone about derivatives pricing and risk than it is to make them into a world class Java or C++ developer."]"

10. Make connections 

Finally, if you want to move into banking in your 30s, it will help if you have banking contacts who can ease your passage. You need someone who will champion the relevance of your skills. This is unlikely to be a recruitment consultant: recruiters specialize in placing people with identikit experience, rather than wildcards from other industries. Get networking. Hit your university alumni. Hit your neighbors. Hit your family and friends. If someone works in banking and can recognize the relevance of your experience, use them.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Da
    27 November 2014

    In the past you could get a job in the City with just applying and learning on the job; sadly these days you need at least a university degree...

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