Mr. Shangkong

Whatever their reputation, people still want to be bankers

The image of the financial industry has suffered badly in the global economic crisis, but banks have no problems recruiting graduates

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 8:09pm

People say the reputation of the financial industry has been badly damaged in the five years since the 2008 global economic crisis. But interest in a job in the industry has not faded, especially among the younger generation.

Recently, Credit Suisse wanted to hire and train 30-odd junior private bankers and wanted to hire them right from university rather than from long-time competitors.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the bank received more than 5,000 applications from newly graduated job seekers, meaning around 160 people were competing for every job. Despite relatively lower payrolls and perhaps longer working hours, the financial industry is still able to attract enough job applicants.

Andrew Sheng, former chairman of the Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission, is remembered for his observation in Inside Job, a 2010 documentary film about the financial crisis.

"Why should a financial engineer be paid four to a hundred times more than a real engineer? A real engineer builds bridges. A financial engineer builds dreams and, when those dreams turn out to be nightmares, other people pay for it," Sheng said in the film.

Sheng's comments were largely ignored in the financial industry, apart from those bankers and fund managers who said his views were biased. Privately, some argued that without bankers, traders, and financial engineers, who designed financial products, how could road and bridge companies survive if they could not raise capital to support their businesses.

I met Sheng in Singapore last week at an accounting conference. When asked about those comments, he stuck with his views and added that the financial industry remained clouded by many ethical issues.

Credit Suisse bosses may be right in hiring fresh graduates, in whom the bank can try to instil its corporate culture and grow their staff loyalty from day one.

But the hirers may want to ask those job applicants to think seriously about one question: why do you want to be a banker or trader or wealth manager? Do you just love the money or do you really love the profession?

If the answer is money, loyalty will be killed sooner or later, because this is a business where many people do believe in the archetypal Wall Street philosophy: "Greed is good".

More recently, Bloomberg, the global financial news and data provider, launched a new project called the "Bloomberg Aptitude Test", a two-hour online test for university students who have an interest in joining the financial industry.

The test allows them to assess thinking and reasoning skills in the context of finance and business, and participants can also upload their CVs, so that some of Bloomberg's top corporate clients, including Barclays, HSBC and Morgan Stanley, can access and review them when looking for junior banking candidates.

The test has been "live" for just a few months, but has already attracted more than 100,000 CVs. People in the financial industry now joke that after the recent privacy scandal that hit the reputation of the news arm of Bloomberg, the new job test may simply turn Bloomberg into one of the world's largest financial job headhunters.


George Chen is the SCMP's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit