Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

How to protect your career from the next crash

Wall street jobs survival
Wall street jobs survival

Don't let new stock market highs and a stronger than expected employment report lull you into a false sense of job security.

Another financial shock could be on the way.

JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon has been warning that a new financial crisis could hit within the next three years. As a consequence, this could have another catastrophic effect on Wall Street jobs.

If it's anything like the 2008 crisis, it could cost tens of thousands of employees in financial services not just their jobs, but also their careers.

Banks since then have scaled back risky activity in their own accounts. Many of the trading and investment banking jobs at places such as JPMorgan, Bank of America and Citigroup never came back.

But there are ways to protect yourself if the system suffers another blow—as long as you can live with less earnings potential. The most stable jobs on Wall Street aren't the most desirable for those looking to bring in big paychecks, but they could offer some safety.

Pedestrians pass in front of a Wall Street sign in New York.
Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"What the government has done is take away banks' and financial institutions' ability to trade as widely and take as many risks as they once did. So, the bond departments have been cut back and a lot has gone online," said John Challenger, who runs employment services firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

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He recommends adapting skills to qualify for risk management and compliance jobs.

"Banks are now under so much deeper, stronger regulation. So, they built up their risk and compliance staff over the past several years to comply with all the government rules and regulations to protect against downside risk," Challenger added.

Demand for accountants, comptrollers and financial analysts would grow even more if there's another crisis, he said.

The areas in financial services paying the largest dividends now are in private equity and banking. But if another crisis hits, Challenger said these jobs likely will be the first ones to go.

The question is: Earn as much money as you can now in a riskier job, or stick with a lower paying position that could survive another blow to the system?

"It has a lot to do with how deeply invested you are in a function and whether you are committed to making a change," said Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. "There are two kinds of traders: Ones who are not necessarily well-educated and grew up in the business, and the traders with a CFA or MBA. They could be more versatile because they have a stronger skillset,"

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There's a good chance banks would increase their need for McKinsey consultants if another situation emerges, according to Cohen, who has worked with Goldman Sachs as a career counselor and executive coach.

Even if Dimon is wrong and Wall Street doesn't see another financial crisis, advanced technology is already being blamed for permanently eliminating jobs on the street. There's a perception that firms using computers and complicated algorithms to buy and sell stocks and other securities are making trading more efficient.

"Many folks will find themselves zeroed out," Cohen said. "Investment banking and trading has already been scaled back dramatically because of the technology."