The doors are open to MBAs in finance, including fintech, wealth management and venture capital
Finance has lost some luster among business school graduates since the global financial crisis and the savaging of banks' reputations.
Punishing work hours, onerous regulation and the growing popularity of Big Tech and management consultancies have contributed to a 40 percent fall in interest in a career in banking, according to The Financial Times.
But financial services remains a high-paying and fast-paced career path that continues to attract many an MBA.
There is wide array of work areas, from buy-side firms to wealth managers and fintech challengers, which are all hiring a larger number of MBA students than in the past, business schools say.
"Finance is a vast arena with many different disciplines, roles and affiliated skill-sets," says John Madgwick, head of finance careers at Said Business School, University of Oxford.
"Over the last three years we have seen a steady increase in absolute hires and a growing percentage of interns being offered full-time roles at the end of the summer."
The biggest change in the industry since the financial crisis has been the growing role of technology such as blockchain, which enables the fast and frictionless transfer of assets over the internet.
"Fintech is disrupting the traditional financial services sector, especially in asset management, payments and insurance," says Margaret O'Neill, head of MBA admissions and careers at Cambridge Judge Business School.
"And we are seeing a growing interest in this area from those [MBA students] who may have previously been interested in more traditional finance roles."
One route into the fintech sector is the Spotcap Fellowship, which provides up to $8,000 towards the cost of an MBA and a path to working at the Berlin-based online lender.
Niels Turfboer, UK managing director of Spotcap and an IE Business School MBA graduate, says he created the scholarship to address a talent shortage. A survey by recruitment website Indeed found that 20 percent of top fintech job vacancies were left unfilled after 60 days.
Turfboer says: "The rising cost of graduate studies, combined with the UK's impending exit from the European Union, could create real challenges when it comes to ensuring a strong and healthy talent pipeline [in the UK]."
What do financial services firms look for in MBAs?
Some financial services firms prefer prior industry experience, but many remain open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds.
Molly Deale used her MBA from the Darden School at University of Virginia to transition from Broadway to banking. She previously worked as a milliner — someone who makes or sells women's hats — in New York City. Over the summer of 2017, she interned at Credit Suisse as an investment banking summer associate. She will graduate in 2018.
"It seems like such a crazy switch, but I was always interested in finance and economics," says Deale. "I would always read the paper and see big deals like Amazon acquiring Whole Foods and think, that's a great idea, who thought of that deal?"
To make a career transition into finance, it's important to have a good story that you can relate to the job you are applying for, Deale says. "When I worked in in millinery, it was a small company, but I could see what a little bit of money could do for growth," she adds.
"In investment banking you do that on a larger scale, you help companies raise debt or IPO or acquire another company to get technology."
The career opportunities for women in the finance sector have improved dramatically since the downturn, says Paul Reeder, senior director of financial services careers at Darden's Career Development Center. "Companies (including the investment banks) are very keen on hiring women into their workforce," he says. "A third of Darden students who are doing investment banking internships in summer 2018 are women.
"Both the student clubs and the companies have done a great job of supporting female candidates, and recruiting women into a finance career path."
Who's hiring in the finance industry?
In terms of the kinds of firms that are hiring MBAs, there are some bright spots in some parts of the finance industry. For example, there has been an increase in MBAs going into venture capital firms, compared to a decade ago, says Maeve Richard, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Meanwhile, the more traditional finance jobs in such areas as investment banking, investment management and hedge funds, saw declines.
"Overall, the percentage of our graduates going to finance dropped by 11 percent from ten years ago," Richard says. "This shift is a reflection of the attractiveness of opportunities and growth in the tech sector that, little by little, exerted a stronger pull on graduates."
Indeed, tech companies such as Amazon have recruited increasingly large numbers of MBAs with the promise of high pay, a good work-life balance and an entrepreneurial culture.
Some financial services firms have upped their game to compete with Big Tech. "There is some evidence to suggest that banks are starting to examine their working practices around work/life balance, access to childcare, paternal and maternal leave," says Oxford's Madgwick.
"There is also a noticeable push to attract students with a technology and engineering background.
"This includes better efforts to advertise the fact that if students want a seat in the disruptive world of fintech, then they will also find one inside the banks, probably with a lot less risk than joining a startup."
Careers in finance don't have to be hectic
Although many people think of careers in finance as fast-paced and high-intensity, that doesn't always have to be the case. Jielin Zhang is a current MBA student at Oxford who says a career in finance does not have to be so intense.
She has secured a summer associate intern position with JPMorgan's private bank in Hong Kong. Previously, Zhang worked in international development and management consulting. "My experience in consulting was hectic," she says. "I went to five different cities in a week, I was living in a hotel basically.
"I wanted to slow down. I realized after talking with alumni and peers I wouldn't enjoy the lifestyle of an investment banker. Private banking is a slower pace and more suitable for my current lifestyle."
Her advice for other MBAs hoping to make the transition into a finance career is to go the extra mile when networking. Alumni of Oxford put her in touch with people in the industry, who provided an overview of a private banker's job.