From the forces to financial services is a well-trodden path. However, over the past few years, banks such as JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Citi and Goldman Sachs have been increasing the number of people they hire from the army, navy, air force and marines. They are formalising the selection process in the belief that skills such as leadership, teamwork and problem-solving that are cultivated in the armed forces could be put to good use in a bank.
This comes as British forces are ending their combat operations in Afghanistan amid cuts to the UK’s defence budget. Defence secretary Philip Hammond last year agreed savings of 1.9 per cent to his department after 2015, triggering warnings that the armed forces had become overstretched.
“Leavers of the armed forces offer [ . . . ] a high level of professionalism and the ability to work under pressured conditions,” says David Duffy, managing director at the Career Transition Partnership, the official provider of armed forces resettlement. It works with banks including Barclays, BNY Mellon and Lloyds Bank to promote career opportunities. Mr Duffy said that between August 2013 and September 2014, about 3 per cent of service leavers went into the banking and financial services sector.
Morgan Stanley has been running quarterly career transition workshops since 2010 and this year it decided to create ex-forces internships in three areas: institutional sales and trading, finance and operations.
The workshops, attended by 700 ex-forces men and women so far, were established with the aim of demystifying financial services, says Dan Worthington, a former paratrooper who is now an executive director in the bank’s institutional equity division.
“It’s difficult for a forces person to know whether they want to go to the buyside or the sellside, or the difference between sales and trading versus investment banking.”
JPMorgan began a formal internship programme in 2011 to expose ex-servicemen and women to different parts of the bank. “It’s a chance for us to identify promising talent and for these candidates to work out if they want a career at JPMorgan,” says Patrick Thomson, global head of sovereign clients at JPMorgan Asset Management, who spent five years in the army.
Mr Thomson said that the skills and characteristics of people leaving the forces tend to be a very good fit for banks: “Their teamwork, ethos and philosophy are very appealing. There is an organisational approach to getting projects completed and work done. They have very high standards of integrity.”
While there is a social dimension to helping servicemen and women back into civilian life, it ultimately makes good business sense, says Will Packard, global head of marketing for foreign exchange at Citi and a former captain in the cavalry.
Mr Packard said: “We’re able to recruit great candidates. The forces have done the selection and the training. It’s all about diversity. Diversity of experience and thought is incredibly important.”
This year Citi launched a programme to encourage people leaving the forces in their mid and late twenties to join the bank’s graduate scheme.
Goldman Sachs runs an eight-week veterans integration programme, launched in 2012, which gives those who are leaving the military an opportunity to find out more about the financial services industry. It also gives the US bank a pool of people to hire from.
Moving from the armed forces to a bank is not without challenges, not least the culture shock and the fact that a senior officer in the armed forces will not go straight into a senior job in a bank.
Mr Packard said: “The difficult part is trying to bridge the gap between a person’s innate competency and their lack of experience. The terminology is a challenge. The structures in a bank are much less well-defined and it’s much less task-orientated. You’ve got to chart your own course.”
The bank programmes focus on helping people who have already decided to leave the forces, rather than trying to identify and poach the top people who are still serving. Mr Packard says that rather than being a threat to the forces, “it’s a massive win” for them.
He said: “If we can give people the same chance when they leave the forces as they would if they had gone straight into the City after university, it will make the army a more attractive place to do a short-service commission.”
From fighting pirates to an internship at JPMorgan
During his tenure serving in the Royal Marines, Christopher Beesley faced Sierra Leonean generals, contractors on the London Olympics and disobedient subordinates. Typically each role he held lasted for 18 months and involved a steep learning curve. This, he says, was good preparation for his first civilian job on leaving the Royal Marines: working as an associate in JPMorgan’s custody and funds services business.
“The spectrum of what you’re asked to do changes a lot so you develop the ability to identify common themes and learn things quickly,” Mr Beesley says. In the marines, this could be having to become an expert on the political history of a small company in a short space of time.
The military work ethic transfers well to finance, Mr Beesley said: “You don’t have the expertise of someone who has been at the bank for 10 years but you have the conceptual framework you can apply to a lot of things. Much of finance centres on doing things on time, professionally and engaging with others.”
Mr Beesley, who is from Northampton, spent seven years in the marines during his twenties. He served in Afghanistan several times and worked on counter-piracy operations off the east coast of Africa. He left the marines in search of more stability and time in the UK. After winning a place on JPMorgan’s internship for ex-servicemen, he was hired to a full-time role.
The most difficult part of the adjustment was learning the technical aspects of the job. “There isn’t the same intensity of training in a bank. It’s down to you to work things out in what is a complex and competitive industry,” said Mr Beesley.
And the different nature of the interaction with superiors was another challenge. “Your boss in the military has more insight into you as an individual and much more leverage over a broader spectrum of your life than they do in finance,” he said.
Does Mr Beesley miss the marines? “Life is more predictable now. That’s good and bad.”
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