The argument for hiring 60-year-old bankers, and why it rarely happens

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Getting and keeping a job at an investment bank over age 60 can be an extremely difficult task, particularly in the last few years as firms have turned to “juniorizing” their staff in an attempt to cut costs. The more expensive you become, the more likely you are to be made redundant. But costs are only part of the issue. Ageism in banking is very much a real thing. New research shows why it probably shouldn’t be.

Harvard researchers looked at the productivity levels of roughly 20k readers of Harvard Business Review based on a number of metrics. They split respondents into five different age groups, ranging from under 30 to over 60. It wasn’t too surprising they found 30-year-olds are more productive than people in the their 20s. What was somewhat unexpected is that the data never hit an inflection point; the productivity scores of respondents rose systematically the older they got, with no exceptions. Looking across all five age brackets, people over the age of 60 were found to be the most productive employees.

The grey-haired cohort was particularly adept at developing routines for clearing out low-value activities, managing message flow, running effective meetings and delegating tasks.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said one former managing director who recently retired from a New York investment bank to move into investment management. “I can’t tell you how many times [someone in their 30s] with a big title has wasted my time in a meeting. You get to a certain point in life where you stop spending your time trying to impress people just for the sake of it.” The same goes for prioritizing one’s work time with what’s really valuable. “We may not have much time left,” the former MD said with a laugh. “Most [people in my generation] have figured out how to manage it.” Indeed, the poorest performers in the study – mostly younger employees – struggled focusing on daily accomplishments and “getting to the final product.”

Unfortunately, being productive in shorter stretches can often go unnoticed for older bankers, unless the person is shielded by a list of key clients that are unique to them, according to a Wall Street headhunter who asked for anonymity. “If we’re not talking about a big-name, it’s really tough for people [in their 60s] to find a new job” in banking, he said. “Fair or foul, part of the thinking is that they may not have the engine of someone 20 years younger.” On more than one occasion, he’s received coded feedback on a prospective older recruit, suggesting the firm aim younger.

“There’s also the perception that, if the person was really good, they’d be able to retire by now,” he said. “As a recruiter, you don’t get rich sending out three-page resumes.”

Veteran bankers have clearly noticed. A study we conducted a few years back found that roughly 56% of financial services employees over the age of 50 would be 'very concerned' their age would be an obstacle in finding a new job. A former senior banking technologist recently told us that, soon after turning 50, he only received offers for contract positions, despite looking for a full-time role. “They benefit from my experience, with none of the cost commitment that comes from actually giving me a job,” he said.

There’s one main key for finding work in banking late in your career, according to the recruiter. Use your network – people who won’t define you by a number. Other routes can be much tougher, he said.

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