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Layoffs In Financial Sector: Ex-Workers Speak Out

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As the finance industry currently stands, no one sails on unaffected. For those laid off during the crisis, experiences and perspectives vary.

Vault.com spoke to several people who are coping with layoffs firsthand, and got their own take on how they are moving forward.

Healthcare VP, Wall Street Investment Bank
My bank “merged” with a rival, buying distressed assets on the cheap. But it really doesn’t matter who is the acquirer in a merger — everyone’s job is at risk. If you are mid-career, you get cut because you are too expensive. The keepers are the Managing Directors, who have the client relationships, and the analysts, the “cheap labor.”

I’ve always been aware of how disposable I am, and I was always consciously hedging my bets. I’ve had a side business for a few years, a health and fitness company, though it was more a labor of love than an actual money-making operation.

And then one morning I didn’t have that bank job anymore. I took a week off. I slept in. I exercised. I ate and drank when I wanted to — and it wasn’t at a desk. Then I began to worry— how would I survive, when banking jobs may be dried up for years?

  • Jobless Claims at 7-Year High

If you are out of the industry for more than a year, your Series 7 license expires, your contacts are gone, your recent deal knowledge is gone, and all the people who kept their jobs through the downturn are now more qualified than you. With this in mind, I just woke up on that Monday and said, OK, I have to count on me now. I threw myself into my business.

I got on the phone and started strategically dialing. I drew up contact sheets and reached out to potential corporate clients, trying to become part of their corporate wellness programs. I redid the website, implemented marketing outreach, recruited workers, tried to do every step of it at once. I started hammering hard.

Investment banking had taught me to do the work of four people. I had a much stronger business up in just four months. Today I have more truly productive hours than what I put in as a banker, likely because I have better work-life balance. As my business continues to grow, there are times I really worry because it is all on me now, and there are times when I wonder what took me so long.

Biotech Investment Researcher, Mid-Tier Bank, West Coast
This is the second time in two years that I’ve been laid off. As I’ve always had an intrinsic need for high achievement, the first layoff hit me hard, cut at the core of what I thought of myself and my “worth”. This time around, I know some things that I didn’t the first time.

A job is more than a source of income. It is a source of positional power. Positional power derives from traditional organizational metrics:

· Formal authority (“I’m a director with prescribed responsibilities and I have five direct reports”)

· Centrality and visibility (“I’m the associate marketing manager, but I set up all the meetings with senior execs”, or “I’m the assistant to the big chief, so I’m highly visible although my direct tasks are administrative”)

· Autonomy (discretion in spending, travel, e.g., sales guys have autonomy)

The alternative power source is personal. Personal power derives from accomplished skill sets and is, not surprisingly, much less susceptible to erosion. Concepts like expertise (ten years in equity trading), track record (publications in journals), or attractiveness (things that others find appealing, e.g., college pedigree, life experiences) all contribute to personal power. As positional powers are fleeting and very possibly organization specific, a layoff exposes personal power.

Now, although I have been out of ‘work’ for months, I am ‘working’ in a business school program, where I am perceived as being ‘in power’ for having a certain educational and career background, some life experience as an expat, and moderate expertise in finance/healthcare. Why do I find underscoring the distinction between positional and personal power significant? Because it’s personal sources of power that ultimately get you hired again.

Analyst, Wall Street bulge bracket firm
I started as an analyst in 2007, just as the market was sliding downward. My group focused on smaller companies, a disappointment to me at the time (bigger companies meant “sexier” deals), but it ultimately saved our group from layoff pressure for a time.

The layoffs began in more populated groups of the bank and took down Analysts and VPs in waves. At the time, we accepted the cuts as the standard casualties of financial cycles. But when MDs who’d defined the bank’s culture were being let go, that was a massive blow to our collective sense of security.

I was in a small group, and took advantage of that proximity to get a meeting with my MD. I asked him straight up what was the story with my job. In a very casual manner he told me that yes, they’d be laying off more people before the summer was up, that I wouldn’t have a desk, and that I should begin looking — starting that week. As a result, I had a paid job hunt, and didn’t go in to work much at all for most of the summer.

I had no hits in New York City. I was emailing everyone I knew, I was carpet bombing recruiters everyday with my resume. I wanted to get into private equity, which was almost impossible because I didn’t have the usual background— 2 to 3 years of fast-paced, in-the-office-until-3-AM dealflow— behind me.

What really changed things for me is something I wouldn’t have even considered especially useful a year ago: I speak Czech. Not fluently, but I was born in Czechoslovakia and spoke Czech until I was eight. My language abilities (which still do not encompass financial terms, or “business speak) helped me get a job with the small Eastern European arm of a large private equity firm. Eastern Europe is seeing a lot of the kind of small-cap deals I used to work on. I move to Geneva this week.

While the economy regroups, we anticipate a spectrum of comparable stories, as a labor force under pressure continues to reassess its talents, priorities and possibilities.

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Anu Rao is a Senior Writer at Vault.com. She has her BA in English from the University of California at Berkeley, and is a Masters candidate at NYU, studying Communications, Media and Marketing.

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