Germans shunning careers in banking

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More worrying still, there are problems with growing a new generation of bankers. Unlike their British or American counterparts, German high-flyers still see engineering and technology as more prestigious careers, while even those who are interested in finance are put off by the long hours culture which their British and American peers seem willing to accept.

The nub of the problem is that Germany's graduates are too old. A German education is a protracted affair, interrupted by work experience and, in the case of men, by military service. As a result, most of those leaving university are already in their late 20s and have definite ideas of what they will and won't do.

According to Ulrich Hommel, dean of the privately run European Business School (EBS) in Frankfurt, 27 or 28 year-olds are less amenable to the long hours demanded of first year analysts. 'In an investment bank with an Anglo-Saxon culture you will work a seven-day week. That may be OK when you're 22 or 23, but at 27 you are likely to have other commitments. You don't want to take a job where you will never be at home.'

Although graduates from Germany's private universities are younger and keener on finance careers - 30% of EBS students go into investment banks - fewer than 5% of students go to private universities. For the vast majority, courses are longer and Siemens, Bayer or BMW remain more attractive suitors than Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley.

Hommel advises that if investment banks are to attract more German students, they should play by the German rules. This means offering opportunities for repeated work experience throughout their studies as per the Werkstudenten schemes operated by the blue chip German companies.

Apprenticeships are popular in Germany. But the investment banks active in Frankfurt do not operate such schemes and the only apprentices that do appear tend to be those who have transferred from the commercial arms of Dresdner Bank or Deutsche Bank. For these apprentices the shift into investment banking typically involves a move to London and a lower position. Many are also put off by the higher cost of living.

The result of this thin pipeline is very few German bankers with M&A experience. 'There are not more than 50 people in Germany who have a track record. Plenty of people have been in corporate banking for seven years and been drawn into M&A two or three times. But finding the kind of M&A specialists with 10 years' experience that are two-a-penny in London is impossible,' says a top-level insider.

The question is why not simply turn to those German-speaking graduates that Anglo-Saxon universities turn out? But banks are unwilling to be drawn on whether it is German speakers, or Germans per se, that they need. Cultural considerations indicate that it is the latter.

'It is extremely important to be German. A lot of soft factors must be taken into consideration. Knowing how people tick and think is all-important. Ostentation is frowned upon: some bankers are seen as too flashy. There is a lot of pride involved in businesses that have been built by individuals themselves and people must be dealt with differently,' says Jens Tonn of Candover private equity. Tonn is a graduate of the European Business School and one-time head of M&A for Citicorp in Germany and Austria.

The recruitment difficulties in Germany mean that banks are turning their attention to neighbouring German-speaking countries. Switzerland and Austria are seen as good sources of graduates. Germans who studied at undergraduate level in the UK are also popular targets, as are the 2% of London Business School's MBA students who are German. 'At the MBA level we are all chasing the same few people,' says a recruiter at a US bank.

However, there is hope. Problems staffing the German office have been compounded by German MBA holders' disinclination to work in London. This may be changing. 'It is becoming increasingly possible to build a career as an investment banker without leaving Frankfurt,' says Jennifer Walker at Baines Gwinner.

As the big banks increase their profiles in Frankfurt, Germans may prove more amenable to their attentions. One German MBA student at London Business School says: 'A banking career is not as prestigious in Germany as elsewhere. But the arrival of US investment banks in Frankfurt has started to change this.'