New priorities: Wolves of Wall Street are a dying breed

When The Wolf of Wall Street hit cinema screens two years ago as a story based on the greed and excess of the finance world, many in banking thought of it as a parody of a bygone era.

While the high pay still attracts people to banking and consulting, the financial crisis and subsequent stream of regulation has shifted employees’ priorities and the way companies recruit.

Many bankers, insurance brokers and consultants who lived through the crisis are scarred. Although they benefited from the boom times with good salaries and bonuses, they lost their jobs as banks retrenched from riskier trading activities and radically shrank certain divisions. Consulting firms and other companies, especially those that relied on banks as lucrative customers, were also hit by the cutbacks.

The aftermath of the crisis and misdeeds of past management has led to the curtailment of overt greed, excess and ostentation. Pay, though still important, is not enough to attract and retain those people banks need to help them recover. Instead, companies — especially those marred by scandal — have found they need to be compelling in other ways, including by offering meaningful work and a better work-life balance.

“Pay is still a significant contributing factor,” says Matt Crawford, associate director of finance recruitment at Robert Walters. “However, the financial services industry at large has seen a reduction in total pay since the heights of 2007. For many flat is the new up, and people have seen total compensation wither.”

But once employees feel their pay is fair in comparison with those around them, it ceases to matter as much as it once did.

“Since the financial crisis, banks have been far more engaging with employees,” says Charlie George, senior manager at Hays Financial Markets. “Before, it was about money and hours didn’t matter. Now, it’s about bringing people into the wider picture, involving them.”

The candidates Robert Walters recruits “want to work for a business that has cleared out skeletons and gives more transparency in business practices”, Mr Crawford says. “They want to work for a well-respected, globally-renowned brand.”

This means banks need a good story — the deeper the crisis, the more compelling the tale needs to be.

David MacLeod, co-founder of Engage for Success, the consultancy, gives banks poor marks so far. “In banking I don’t think they’ve done a great job of explaining the importance of it to society and therefore the purpose of the job, where things went wrong, and what’s being done to ensure it won’t go wrong again.”

Consulting firms, especially those managing big change programmes, have an easier task of imbuing jobs with meaning.

There are fewer shortcuts now. Disingenuous PR no longer works as well as it did because bogus stories quickly attract critique and ridicule on social media and the internet.

Robert Walters’ Mr Crawford says: “It’s important the reality of working there is consistent with what [employers] are saying now because it’s easier to look through the ‘glass door’ to understand what it’s really like.”

Analysis by Glassdoor, which allows people to post anonymous reviews of employers, has established a link between employee satisfaction and the performance of a company’s shares, says Andrew Chamberlain Glassdoor’s chief economist. “The companies that feature on the ranking of ‘Best Places To Work in Finance and Consulting’ understand this more than most,” he notes (see below).

For example, on the site, top-ranked Peninsula Business Services, was praised for its “great team atmosphere” and for being well-managed.

Meanwhile, a vice-president at ninth-ranked Credit Suisse in London lauded the “flexible working hours, freedom to manage time as long as work is done”, but noted “people can take things too easy and relaxed”.

At Goldman Sachs, which ranks just above Credit Suisse, many liked being among “hard-working smart people ” but bemoaned the “work-life balance”.

Most Glassdoor reviews are left by people below the C-suite. At director level, meanwhile, being able to leave a positive legacy is often important. Part of that is finding and mentoring future leaders and building a team towards a greater good, says Nicole Jones of Egon Zehnder, a search firm that mostly works at board and senior level.

“It’s about encouraging the improvement and development of those around them. Building a team working towards a greater good. Everyone is trying to do this, a lot of organisations are realising that talent is scarce, so they need to identify future leaders and develop them themselves.”

The threat of talent poaching is on the rise across the spectrum of roles. Companies are responding by paying more attention to work-life balance, which together with job stability, counts a lot more these days, recruiters say.

“Challenger” banks offer more flexible packages that improve lives overall, says Egon Zehnder’s Ms Jones. “Increasingly banks are starting to be faced with greater competition from newer players in the market and they’re aware of this. People are looking to join organisations that have growth, flexibility, and a work life balance.”

She adds that employers “are starting to realise work-life balance is key to having successful and happy employees”.

Mr George of Hays calls this newfound realisation one of “the most dynamic shifts we’ve seen in financial services in the past 10 years”.

More than ever, The Wolf of Wall Street appears to be the voice of history: employees’ values have changed, at least for now.

Happy employees mean better stock market performance

Companies with satisfied employees tend to outperform the stock market, making it an area that boards should take seriously, writes Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s chief economist.

Andrew Chamberlain

Our analysis found that if investors had bought shares in Glassdoor’s 50 “Best Places to Work” in 2009 and held them until the end of 2014, they would have outperformed the S&P 500 by 115.6 per cent.

The results suggest a meaningful economic link between employee satisfaction and stock market performance. To be fair, being named on the Glassdoor (or any other) “Best of” list is no guarantee of future stock performance. But the research shows that companies recognised for excellent culture and high employee satisfaction outperform the stock market over time — while companies that rank poorly have significantly underperformed. Before the launch of Glassdoor in 2008, measuring company culture was a monumentally difficult task — particularly for outside investors. But a growing database of company reviews from employees has allowed a clear link between company culture and broader financial performance to emerge. The message to today’s executives is clear: workplace transparency is here to stay. Those who ignore the importance of corporate culture may be doing so at the expense of their companies’ financial detriment.

Full ranking: FT/Glassdoor’s best places to work in finance and consulting, UK

1. Peninsula Business Services (Business Services)

2. Bain & Company (Business Services)

3. Newton Europe (Business Services)

4. McKinsey & Company (Business Services)

5. Thomas International (Business Services)

6. Oliver Wyman (Business Services)

7. GE Capital (Finance)

8. Goldman Sachs (Finance)

9. Credit Suisse (Finance)

10. Macquarie Group (Finance)

11. LV= (Insurance)

12. M&G Investments (Finance)

13. Deloitte (Business Services)

14. JPMorgan (Finance)

15. BlackRock (Finance)

16. Swinton Insurance (Insurance)

17. JDX Consulting (Business Services)

18. Accenture (Business Services)

19. Risk Management Solutions (Insurance)

20. Morgan Stanley (Finance)

21. EY (Business Services)

22. FactSet (Finance)

23. Standard Life (Finance)

24. Dunnhumby (Business Services)

25. Towers Watson (Business Services)

26. American Express (Finance)

27. BGL Group (Insurance)

28. Aviva (Insurance)

29. BNP Paribas (Finance)

30. Citibank (Finance)

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