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Why bankers should become soldiers

Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, celebrate after boarding a C-17 transport plane to depart Camp Adder, now known as Imam Ali Base, on December 17, 2011 near Nasiriyah, Iraq.
Mario Tama | Getty Images
Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, celebrate after boarding a C-17 transport plane to depart Camp Adder, now known as Imam Ali Base, on December 17, 2011 near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Wall Street needs more veterans, and the military could benefit from more bankers.

Companies have recognized the importance of hiring veterans. As part of the "Veterans Jobs Initiative," which started in 2011, 235 corporations have hired 360,000 veterans. Wall Street firms have also played an integral role: J.P. Morgan has added over 11,000 veterans to its ranks since the initiative began. "We want to do our share to bring them back into society and give them jobs," said Jamie Dimon. Veterans are well trained, competent, and loyal, and bring these qualities to their civilian jobs. Veterans make for model bankers, traders, research analysts, compliance officers, and other financial professionals.

But bankers can also do their part by serving their country. I know because I worked at J.P. Morgan before I was commissioned as a U.S. Navy reservist. I joined because I wanted to take part in something greater than myself. Having served on active duty in the Middle East, I realize that financial professionals can provide significant value. Here are three reasons why bankers should become soldiers:

  • First, become a "PowerPoint Ranger." This is jargon for those military personnel who are tasked with preparing slides for briefings. When I was overseas, I had to brief senior leaders on important matters on a recurring basis, and I was able to do this effectively because of my time learning on Wall Street. Bankers are already pros at giving briefs, as they have to provide regular updates to their clients, colleagues, managers, and direct-reports. They have to cut through the noise and distill relevant information. Indeed, bankers are already PowerPoint rangers and could augment the "briefing corps" that informs key leaders and staff.
  • Second, make quick decisions. Because bankers are obsessed with numbers, they are able to make quick and informed decisions. They watch the market and are wired to follow short term quarterly results. I tried to quantify everything that I did, abetting a "measurement culture," in which every meeting, teleconference call, and email could be evaluated for its effectiveness. If something isn't driving a result, it can be eliminated. This would inevitably lead to quick decisions, and perhaps drive more positive effects on and off the battlefield.
  • Third, optimize spending. The Department of Defense (DOD) is a large organization that uses several technology systems to track spending. But the US Government Accountability Office has considered the DOD financial systems "high risk" since the mid-1990s, which can result in "impaired ability to make cost-effective choices." The military could leverage a team of bankers-turned-reservists to evaluate potential transactions, and to determine whether the government could negotiate better deals. Bankers could help maximize margins.

By becoming a soldier, bankers will acquire skills and learn about new technologies that will make them better at their civilian jobs. Bankers who serve as reservists can also benefit financially, making a few thousand dollars a year in extra income – as well as a pension, if they stay for twenty years.

Most importantly, bankers will gain a deep appreciation for those who defend our freedoms at home and abroad. To whom much has been given, much will be expected. Wall Street firms should expect and encourage their bankers to become soldiers.

Commentary by Kabir Sehgal, a US Navy veteran who served on active duty with special operations in the Middle East. He is the author of the New York Times best seller "Coined: The Rich Life of Money And How Its History Has Shaped Us." He is a former vice president at JPMorgan and Grammy-winning producer. Follow him on Twitter @HiKabir.

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