The Review — 13/05/2015 at 18:32

Why people quit finance jobs before they’re 30 – the 7 year itch

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There’s a good reason to cling to your banking job, however exhausting and excoriating, until you’re at least 32: the big money in banking comes with time. By working in the financial services industry until your early 30s, you could set yourself up for life. Why then, do so many people quit before that?

“In my case, I’d been interested in the food innovation space for a long time,” says Rahul Parekh, a Cambridge graduate and former executive director in the equity derivatives business at Goldman Sachs. “I just didn’t have the resources to do it alone – and then an ex-colleague introduced me to an incubator and it became possible.”

Parekh spent seven years at Goldman Sachs before quitting to found EatFirst, a healthy food delivery company which operates in London and Berlin. This puts him in the key ‘zone’ for banking career wobbles – seven years in, and the urge to quit can be overwhelming.

“I was working long hours and was just getting burnt out,” says Michael Leong, a former relationship manager at Bank of America, who quit in September 2013 after around eight years and has now retrained as a personal trainer. “I was getting into the office at 7.30am and leaving at 7.30pm and was on my Blackberry either side of that. I wasn’t getting time to run and I was just a bit fed up. There was no job satisfaction left, even when I helped a client, it just felt like another transaction.”

Another ex-Goldman banker (an equity saleswoman) who left the firm after seven years in 2012, says becoming a senior vice president (VP – or ‘executive director’ at Goldman Sachs) is usually the pinch-point. “For every 100 analysts who get hired, maybe 75 make associates, maybe 40 make VP and maybe five or ten make MD,” she says.”It just gets harder to progress.” Banks positive encourage VPs to quit, she claims: “You have all these analysts coming in at the bottom end and you don’t have many positions at the top – banks need to keep moving VPs out.”

Seven years into a banking career is also when the work politics hit a new level of intensity. “At VP-level, the politics come much more strongly into focus,” says a former saleswoman at Morgan Stanley. “You have much more visibility on what’s going on in the management structure and a lot of your time is spent dealing with internal issues rather than closing deals or bringing in new business.” The ex-Goldman saleswoman agrees: “Being a VP or ED is politically tough. You have all these people below you who are trying to come up and people above you who don’t want to move. You’re squeezed on both sides.”

It doesn’t help that VP-level staff are the key executers of banks’ business and that cost cuts means they’re compelled to work harder than ever. “In my department, there were just fewer and fewer people,” says Leong. “We seemed to be doing double the amount of work and weren’t getting appreciated for it. It was becoming the norm and it really grated with me to be honest.”

Naturally, banks don’t want all their VPs to leave. Parekh says Goldman did its best to persuade him to stay. “When I left, they asked me to stay. I made it very clear that I wasn’t leaving because I was unhappy – I was very, very happy in my role, which had become more entrepreneurial and interesting as I progressed through the firm. I was leaving because I was really excited about the opportunity to start a business that had such huge potential. It seemed like the natural next step in my career.”

Parekh now sells his meals back to his ex-colleagues.”Goldman people are a big clients,” he says. Leong is helping a friend in Portugal before returning to set up his personal training business. And the two ex-saleswomen are both entrepreneurs.

The ex-Goldman saleswoman suggests it’s become easier to leave banking than it used to be: “There are far more opportunities in tech firms and private equity than there used to be.” And if you don’t succomb to the seven year banking itch? You can always hang around, hoping you’ll get promoted, or not. “There were definitely a few people at Goldman who’d been VPs for ages,” she adds. “They were usually good producers but weren’t political enough to get promoted. – But there weren’t many like that.”

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