How Not To Lose Your Soul in Finance

Confessions of a Banker Bro is a new satirical look at working in the banking industry from our guy on the inside. 

The stockiest financial stock photo we could find.

So, you landed your dream job as an analyst for BoA, Wells, Fifth Third, Ally, or a company I’m told is unironically naming themselves Truist. Congratulations on joining the upper tier of the middle class and your sweet new cubicle that will be home to you for more hours that you won’t enjoy than you will. You have the new apartment in South End/Uptown/Plaza Midwood, and you already have an updated LinkedIn profile to build your new, professional “brand.”

Tim Nicodemus

However, while learning to ride a scooter in a suit or high heels sounds exciting, you have a nagging question that is bothering you: How can I remain a good person while working in finance?

After all, you know the economic crisis was caused by greedy lending practices, and you know all about the scandals that plague these institutions. You like the money, but you’re worried about the unchecked greed that you are about to be enveloped by. Your friends are making fun of you for “selling out,” but can’t you be both a good person and well-paid?

As one of the seeming 2 billion Charlotteans who work in finance, I want to offer encouragement that you are fully able to work in finance while not fully compromising your morals. Below, I will offer some thoughts on how to keep your soul while being part of the most powerful machine in the world.

First, lower your expectations. It’s good dating advice, and it’s also decent career advice. If you want to be CEO of BoA, you will have to sacrifice a lot of societal and personal good to get there. If you want to have your cake and eat it too, as they say, do not expect to make senior management in a couple of years.

You will have to focus on work and “play the game,” which means serious compromises. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve gotten to know some powerful men and women in finance who are also active in the community. They have done well professionally with souls intact. Just know that it will require immense nuance, lack of sleep and random luck.

Also, you may not get to push for every policy you want or speak your mind on every issue. Compromise can be a good and bad thing, and you’ll need to understand that concept if you want to move up while changing the system from the inside.

Second, find like-minded people. This is incredibly tough. Not only will most people you come in contact with not care about anything outside of the company’s bottom line or their own paycheck, but depending on the job, free hours for deep conversations with co-workers will be at a minimum. Consider reaching out to your firm’s community relations representatives, who can not only connect you to great nonprofits, but tell you about Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that may be talking about diversity initiatives, environmental concerns, etc.

Putting yourself out there is scary in finance, but you’ll find people who also care about community change. Don’t believe the either/or narrative you are told both inside and outside the industry.

Third, don’t fall into the finance trap of only hanging out with coworkers or industry insiders. Keep yourself grounded with your original friend group full of teachers or social workers or nonprofit employees. Yes, they’ll make fun of you, but that’s good. You don’t want to lose yourself in the finance echo chamber. If you came up in the chamber and that’s all you know, well, you may have to take a long look in the mirror.

If religion is your jam, get involved in a church/temple/mosque/coven/satanic ritual that allows you to find deep connection. Don’t go to the place just because senior management/prospective clients go there. (For industry outsiders, that is a real thing people do. It’s like a country club but you pray to Jesus. It’s weird).

Lastly, trust yourself. Your moral compass is not automatically broken as soon as you walk into the fancy lobby of One Wells or Founders Hall. The fact that you have concerns shows that you care. Yes, as mentioned above, it will be a fight and it’s not as easy to see how your work matters compared to other industries, but I promise you that there are some toxic AF people who don’t care about community even in nonprofit or religious organizations.

Finance is a beast that may want to commodify you, but that’s true about every sector, it’s just more pronounced and obvious. Much like that cliché Instagram post says: Be the change you want to see. No one can take that from you without your permission.

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