Is Working in Banking for You? – 12 Great Things and the Flip side

12 great things about working in banking include attractive compensation (salary and benefits), plenty of learning opportunities, that it never gets boring, multiple career paths, opportunities for traveling and working overseas or in a different city, high mobility and fluidity within the industry, working with numbers, sense of prestige and status, being part of large projects, working with a lot of smart intelligent and interesting people, and a lot of parties and celebration.

There are a lot of great things about working in banking. But as with most things in life, what is considered a plus for one person can be a minus for the other. 

Whether or not working banking is suitable for you depends a lot on your personality and interests. As there’s a wide range of jobs within the banking and financial sectors, you’ll find that some jobs will suit you better and others less.

There are a lot of things that I liked about working in banking. But in addition to the great things, there is also a possible flip side. 

These great and less great things apply not exclusively to working in banking, but also in the financial sector, as well as large corporations and multinational companies.

1. Compensation – Salary and Benefit

One of the things that attract people to get into banking in the first place is the expectation of a high salary. 

The salary level largely varies depending on the position and the area in which you work. 

If you work in investment banking or sales selling wealth management products like mutual funds bonds etc. and get commissions, then there is almost no limit to what you can earn. Sometimes a cap will be applied to the commissions, but it’s usually quite high. The Bank knows that salespeople are driven by commission, so they won’t apply a cap that is too low and risk to dampen their motivation. 

If you’re working in management, then once you’re working in middle-management and above it’s relatively easy to earn a six-figure income. A large chunk would come from your annual performance bonus.

However, if you’re starting as a teller or a junior manager, then your salary would not be much higher compared and even comparable to that in other jobs and industries. 

That being said, the earning potential increases disproportionately the higher you climb up the ladder and the better you perform. 

Now to the flipside: The high pay goes hand-in-hand with extremely hard work and especially long hours. You’ve gotta have the patience, nerves, and stamina to have a high flying career.

I worked in project management and strategic business management in a large multinational bank. And for employees in managerial positions, there are no fixed hours.

There are of course employees, e.g. tellers who would regularly go home at 6 pm or 7 pm (but even they need to occasionally stay behind to tidy up some admin work, but in the management office, you would see quite a bunch of people still in the office around 8 and 9 pm. 

I and a few of my colleagues were routinely among them. There were a lot of times when we had to work on a presentation for or prepare a meeting the next day and just had to get the job done that night. Even if it meant staying until midnight.  

The working hours for the salespeople, especially those working in Private Banking or who have a lot of high net worth customers (customers with a certain amount of money, assets) in their portfolio was similarly taxing.

To maintain their relationship with their customers, it oftentimes meant that they had to be on standby. Working past office hours including on the weekends.

Certainly, there is no official rule that states this. Most high performing bankers do this out of self-interest and for their career. For peeps in the management office, to get ahead in their career, get a good performance review, bonus, etc. And for the salespeople or ‘Relationship Managers’, to retain their customers, selling more products, and increase commissions.

If you are a Private Banker and have a high net worth client with $2 million in their portfolio, and on a Saturday night they encounter some problem with their credit card or so and need your help, it’s rather unlikely that you would turn them down and just tell them to sort it out with the call center.

Of course, you could. But then you would risk losing the business. The larger the assets a customer holds, the higher the expectations. Thus, most likely you would pick up the call, hear them out and see how you could help them. Even if you’re in the middle of your family dinner. 

This is something to be aware of, but again, depending on your personality, the need to be constantly available may or may not bother you. 

I have friends who are more on the extroverted side, who seem to willingly merge their private life and their life as a banker, and don’t seem to be bothered by it. 

This need to be available around the clock is not specific to banking only. You will also find this in a lot of other industries and jobs. But from my own experience and observation, this is something typical of the banking and finance industry.

In general, this poses the question about the trade-off between your need for a high earning potential versus your need for having time to relax and wind down.

2. Learning Opportunities

What I enjoyed about working in banking is that there are plenty of learning opportunities, both formal and informal. On the formal side, there is a lot of training that is mandatory for you to take, usually related to financial products and the financial industry.

And oftentimes, if you’re already at a mid or a senior level, you’ll also get the opportunity to go for training in a different city or overseas. Multinational banks that have their headquarters in one country would oftentimes fly their managers over so they could participate in training at the central training center.

Through the e-learning system, you’ll do online training or e-learning. While some will be mandatory, others you can just pick out yourself depending on your special interests. 

Training modules are not only related to financial products and processes but could also cover topics such as customer service, leadership and so on.

The flip side is that if you are not interested in financial products and banking in general, then having to take all these training sessions and e-learning might be dreadful for you. 

3. It never gets boring

Working in banking, there’s just so much to do. So many things happening on a daily and weekly basis: frequent product launches that you have to get up to speed on, townhall meetings that you have to attend if you are at mid-level management and above. 

Also celebrations and CSR or corporate social responsibility activities such as painting houses that you can participate in – or that you have to participate in on behalf of your team.

Looking back to my time working in banking, there was never an idle second in my day where I would think ‘There is nothing more to do or nothing more to achieve’. You can always hustle more, learn more, and exceed expectations. 

The flip side is – well, while some people might enjoy this path pace and super fast-changing environment (there may be new colleagues joining and leaving every other day) others may prefer a more quiet and serene working environment. Something that you will unlikely find in the world of banking.

If you work in the branch you would be serving customers all of the time. When you are not attending to customers, you’d be in the back office taking care of a lot of admin stuff.

If you work in management then you’ll have to deal with or you can enjoy the pleasure of (depending on your personality, again) working in an open layout office.

In banks, large corporations, and increasingly more companies nowadays, the management office is mostly arranged in an open layout. This means that anywhere from 100 to 150 or more seats or cubicles are arranged densely on one floor. 

Without any separation or walls. People are going back and forth interacting, talking, walking in front of, behind, around your desk. There is normally a lot of noise going on all of the time (to the point that some people wear earplugs and you have to gesture to them so they would talk to you) 

In several positions I worked in, I had a desk that was attached to my boss’s desk. Come to think of it, it was one big ‘desk island’ shaped somewhat like a bone. 6-8 people would sit at that desk. 

My seat happened to be across my boss’s seat. She and I were almost seated face-to-face. Granted, our seats were at an angle. But for an introvert, even this may be too much. 

But again, some people may feel at home in this kind of environment.

4. Multiple career paths

What I found exciting in banking is that it’s relatively easy to move between one area of the bank to another. For example, you start in retail banking but later on, you decide that you want to switch over to corporate banking.

Or if you start in customer services but over time you develop a strong interest in the area of Human Resources, there is a high chance that you will be able to make that move and switch into HR, even without an HR background.

Based on my observations, banks and large corporations, in general, like to hire from within, especially for management positions. And that makes sense for the following reason:

The management structures in banking and much of the corporate world are so complex. There are so many internal systems that you need to understand. There are tons of processes, and workflows you have to get used to. By hiring someone from within, it will eliminate this part of the learning process. 

5. Traveling

There are a lot of opportunities to travel, even though not every single person in the bank will eventually travel somewhere. 

If you are at least already at a mid-level management position you’ll likely travel at some point. You’d travel for business meetings at the headquarters, to work on projects, or to participate in training sessions. 

And if the bank is multinational, and you work in one of its subsidiaries, there is a chance that you will even travel overseas. So instead of just staying and working in that one single place, you have the chance (albeit more or less for different employees) to travel.

The flip side is that traveling for work is not as fun as you think you might think. People may think that it’s like a free vacation because the company pays for your flight ticket, hotel, and meals. Oftentimes the traveling employee would even get a daily allowance, which is kind of pocket money that you can spend on food or whatever.

The flip side is, that traveling for work can be quite exhausting. I found traveling for business is not that enjoyable. My first few trips were quite exciting. But after a while, it got old and tiresome. 

Traveling didn’t mean that I was released from my work and tasks. It only meant that I had less time to work on my regular responsibilities.

While traveling, you have to focus on the project, business, or meetings. So even though you’re sent on a business trip to let’s say the UK or to Singapore, you’ll have little time or no time to enjoy being in the country, doing sightseeing and wandering around. 

Most of your time would be spent in the hotel in the car or taxi on

the way to your next meeting, and in the meeting with your other colleagues or business partners.

6. Path towards working overseas 

If you work at a multinational bank or any large multinational corporation, you have a good chance of working overseas.

That is if you are the right person with the right skills. And if you fight for it relentlessly. It’s not easy to be chosen for an overseas assignment., but it’s very possible to be transferred overseas internaly if you set your mind on it.

7.  Mobility or high fluidity within the banking and finance industry 

It is easy to move in between companies. I stayed and work at one in the same Bank for my entire 5 years, but during that time I saw plenty of colleagues who were moving back and forth between banks.

They started working in one bank for a year, then moved over to another, then were headhunted to join another bank and so on. So it was quite common that someone would reunite with their former boss or colleague but in another bank.

In the banking and financial industry it’s rather easy to move back and forth between banks if you are up for it. Obvious reasons why people are doing this and the turnover is so high in banking is because people are looking for a higher salary and chasing a promotion that they couldn’t get at their former bank.

Oftentimes people also move around because they are looking for a ‘better’, more suitable company culture. Some are even just following their boss’s move. 

8. Working with numbers 

Whether you are working as a teller in the branch or the management office you will be working with numbers all of the time. So you have to be very comfortable with numbers, foreign exchange, and so on.

If you work in management, you’ll have to work with data all of the time. You are either analyzing data, interpreting and presenting it or making decisions based on it. 

The flip side, of course, is that if you hate numbers, if you don’t like working with numbers at all and numbers confuse you then you’re likely to feel out of place in banking or finance.

9. Sense of prestige or status 

This is more of a psychological aspect but is nevertheless what attracts people to work in banking. Working in banking or finance gives many people a sense of prestige or status.

In addition to that, there is a certain lifestyle attached to the world of banking that some people may enjoy. It’s common to hear people talking about fancy cars, 5-star dinners, branded handbags frequently.

It might sound a bit stereotypical, but from personal experience, I can say that this is indeed the case. Of course, there are geeks, study worms, as diverse as you may find in the cast of the Office. But for the majority of people, glamour and luxury play quite a big role.  

In the world of banking and finance people tend to talk a lot, perhaps disproportionately compared to other industries about fine dining, luxury

traveling, buying this or that branded item or condo, expensive cars, and so on. 

If you share similar interests then I would say that the environment may be suitable for you. But if those topics bore you, then you might need to look for a different working environment.

Again here I’m not saying that it’s good or bad, because it’s different for every person depending on their personality and interests. It’s just something to be aware of. Then you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s the right environment for you or not.

And here I won’t deny the importance of status and prestige.

I believe that every person deep down inside cares about prestige and status to a certain degree. It is just the source from which prestige and status are obtained that is different for different people.

For many people, high status means owning a luxury condo and the newest BMW. For other people, high status may mean being able to afford to retire early and do whatever you want.

10. Working on (or being part of) large projects 

In banking, there are constantly large projects going on. While the project manager will be the one 100% occupied with the project, eventually everyone in the bank will play a part.

Sometimes this can be quite exciting. Large, company-wide projects such as the launch of a product, the launch of a new internet banking platform, affect all employees and departments in some way. 

Everyone will contribute to it, in the process of collaborating with and learning from other colleagues. While working on it or supporting it, you’ll feel like you’re part of something bigger.

The flip side is that in large corporations usually, you don’t have that much autonomy. The company structure is normally quite complex and complicated. In every step that you take, every decision that you make, there are so many other people involved.

A row of people has to approve something before it gets green light (for good reasons). There are so many interdependencies that require a crazy amount of coordination. 

Some people thrive in this kind of environment, and that might be you. but then there are people who prefer to have a little bit more autonomy, for whom this kind of working environment might not be that suitable at all.

You have to know which group you belong to.

11. Working with a lot of smart intelligent and interesting people 

I made so many and great connections that last even until now. Being a small fish in a big pond, one small part of many which make the large corporation work, there are many people who are smarter and more experienced than you who you can learn from.

You’ll have the chance to work and interact with a lot of these people.

The flip side might be, that it can overwhelm you. It’s quite common to be working with 30-50 different people every day. You have to be good at building relationships and communicating effectively with different personalities, to thrive in this environment. And some people may truly enjoy it. 

However, for some people, especially those on the more introverted side, may find this kind of work setting quite exhausting and draining.

12. Celebrations and parties

Almost daily there will be some kind of party going on on the floor. Either someone is celebrating their birthday or their farewell, or someone new is welcomed on board. Nearly every afternoon there will be something new going on. 

And if you are working in a mid-level management position and above, then you will likely take part in a lot of lunches and dinners. I can’t remember any more at how many five-star buffets I ate.

The flip side is that you’ll not necessarily be able to enjoy all of these celebrations, because after all, you are in a work setting.

Although there are times where you might enjoy certain parts of a celebration and feel like laughing your ass off or dancing around, you’ll still feel compelled to think of your image. How you come across and how your boss and colleagues will perceive you. 

You will need to get used to making a lot of small talk and networking. Which is good and necessary, but not enjoyable for everyone. 

So even though you’re at a meeting at a fancy five-star hotel and eating this sumptuous buffet lunch dinner, you will not be necessarily able to fully enjoy it in the same way as if you’re hanging out with your family or your friends.

If you’re considering moving into banking than hopefully, these things will provide you information that goes beyond the technical knowledge of banking and finance. Hopefully, this can help you to make an informed decision.

Banking or finance can be a great career to go into, for many people. Just make sure that you get into banking for the right reasons and manage your expectations. While these 12 great things about working in banking may be awesome for some people, they may represent a downside for others. 

So think carefully about whether or not banking is for you. And if you’re not sure, why not try it out first? You can always reroute your career. Don’t feel like you’re ever stuck in one career for your whole life. 

3 Comments

  1. HONEY

    How easy it for international graduates from low ranked universities in Germany to get a job in finance in germany? Is age a factor for these finance companies to recruit new graduates with bachelors?

    • multiplecareers

      As fresh grad, in general people from higher-ranked universities (in that field) may have an edge, as that is one of the objective criteria a company can look at. However, I would say that even if someone graduated from a ‘low rank’ university, they should not be disheartened. There are many other things a company would look at, e.g. grade, thesis, recommendation letter (from Professor or employer), work experience, how the application is put together. And in Germany, the difference between high-ranked and low-ranked university is not as big as for example in the States or other countries, where the quality of education differs largely. Regarding age, it depends what age range we are talking about. At the extremes, yes it does matter. If a 50-year old lets say applies for a entry-level job, that might be tricky. But I would say that whether someone is 24 or 27 when they apply for an entry-level job, doesn’t really matter. What matters more is what the person has been doing since graduation, what experiences and skills they’ve gathered and can show in their resume. I hope it answers your question!

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