I’ve been asking myself a question for a long time: if finance really is just about the absolute value of the money they make, why do is it a top career choice? With pay slowly being cut down, reality is, there are much more profitable jobs such as chemical engineering or luxury goods craftsmanship. The money culture of Wall Street being “where the big money is made” certainly does play a big role, but many people still choose to head towards the industry even though they understand they might not necessarily make $100k+ as a junior investment banking analyst anymore.
The answer I’ve come to is that the financial services industry is depicted as full of drama, and people, especially college students, love nothing more than drama. The absolute sum of money helps, but its not so much what the money can buy, but the drama that comes along with living in the world of $100k+ salaries. Blogs like When in Finance, movies like Wall Street and Twitter feeds like Goldman Sachs elevator further reinforce this misconception. While they do exhibit the immorality and problems with the industry from time to time, they mainly depict the dramatic day to day lives of bankers. And I think this false depiction is what is drawing a disproportionate amount of college students towards the financial services sector.
First, let’s establish an assumption I’m making: college students love drama. This is represented in the most common college group activity: sitting around and gossiping. In fact, this is why Facebook has spread virally among the younger generation. They want to know what sorts of dramatic stories are happening to their friends. They want to know whether any exciting developments have come in the various crazy relationships their friends are in. And without too much experience in life, college students are more likely than adults to make poor decisions (especially given the opportunity to consume large amounts of alcohol unsupervised), making college a hotbed for drama. Through this culture of gossipping and drama brewing, it isn’t hard to see why college students love drama so much. In fact, I would even go as far to say that drama is an integral part of every college experience.
And when they begin their career search, they begin to find that there is more drama in the financial services industry than anywhere else. In fact, the financial services industry spends a large amount of money to wave this exciting drama in front of student’s faces. Fine dining with clients then chatting in the bar until 5 am, cutthroat competition, bottles and models…these are the characteristics of popular dramas in our popular media like Gossip Girl and Orange County.
But wait, many honest working kids simply want to pay off their student loans, right? Well, if you look at the breakdown of kids who tend to work in finance, you notice that most of these kids are from upper-middle class or upper class families that make paying off loans not exactly of the highest priority. Rather, it isn’t about the money itself, but the lifestyle that comes along with the high salaries and prestigious jobs. The desire for drama and the image of the financial services industry is why college students want to enter the industry. There is a whole different lifestyle that they can’t unlock unless they are making the hundreds of thousands themselves.
Then, another question arises. Wouldn’t the job of regurgitating excel templates and refining powerpoint slides deter students from signing up? Especially if they have interned there? Well, if you think about it, interns mostly deal with bitch work such as condensing company research reports, making calculations of market metrics in excel or preparing editing market overviews for clients. They are immersed in a job where they are dealing with the market on a daily basis. And let me tell you, there is no larger drama queen in the world than the market. So before the reality that they are simple a cog in the machine spitting numbers onto a premade template, they most likely would find their job “exciting.”
We have the Eurozone crisis that is still threatening to tear apart a continent last summer.
And we have the crazy earnings season this year blended with algorithm errors, more European panic and crashing tech stocks like Facebook and Zynga.
And shall I say, isn’t it a coincidence that there is never a lack of drama during these summer months?
Nothing is more exciting than the market. And its hard for interns to realize that when they haven’t been numbed by their 50th Powerpoint presentation yet. They don’t see how they could be unhappy with their jobs 5 years down the line after they have been changing text in the exact same Powerpoint template for the hundredth time. All they see in their managing directors is the ability to slosh around large sums of cash and drink with clients at exclusive clubs. After seeing their MD’s drama filled lifestyle, they are even more tempted to sign up for a bulge bracket.
Why? Because it seems like an extension of college, especially for kids going to prestigious institutions. Its a continuation of their college drama: partying hard on weekends, office encounters and enjoying the position as the best of the best. In conjunction with the enticing offers from banks and application process rather similar to the college application process, and you have a perfect replication of comfortable school life. And who wouldn’t want to continue living the drama-filled college life?