There are few industries outside investment banking where people earn six-figure sums before the age of 27. The promise of enormous wealth attracts plenty and has long raised concerns of a possible brain drain from other industries.
The latest to fall prey to the financial markets' allure is Andrew Procter, director of enforcement at the Financial Services Authority, the UK regulator. Procter will join Deutsche Bank as head of compliance for the UK and Western Europe in April. He will find himself in good company - other FSA staff, to say nothing of academics, accountants, economists, physicists and barristers, have made a similar shift into banking.
The exodus has prompted complaints. Keith Dugdale, head of recruitment at accountancy firm KPMG, said banks were a drain on newly qualified accountants. "Our staff turnover went up dramatically last year. It was clear that investment banks were back in the market in a big way," he said.
Dugdale said banks poaching young accountants offered pay increases of 60% or more. However, from areas like academia, the premium for joining a bank is even higher. Those with doctorates teaching as academics have little chance of ever earning 50,000 (€71,500). Many with statistical expertise go into banking instead.
Jessica James, a former physics lecturer at Trinity College Oxford, who is a risk adviser in the foreign exchange team at Citigroup, made the transition 10 years ago after her supervisor received a letter from the head of trading at First National Bank of Chicago. She said: "He was looking for statistically oriented students to join the trading floor. I've never looked back."
The depleted pipeline of academics is a source of concern. In 2000, economists Stephen Machin and Andrew Oswald reported on the shortage of British economics doctors, highlighting defections to the City of London as a cause. David Miles, chief UK economist at Morgan Stanley and professor of financial economics at Imperial College London, said the situation today was even bleaker. Last year, just 14% of postgraduate students of economics at the London School of Economics were Britons.
The bright lights of banking also draw medical staff. In the past few weeks, Baird, a US investment bank and asset manager, announced that Mike Aitkenhead, a former intensive care doctor, was joining as an equity research analyst covering the life sciences sector.
Aitkenhead said money was part of the appeal, as was an affinity for scrutinising balance sheets discovered while studying for an MBA at Cambridge University.
Nevertheless, the notion that banks lure people in ever-increasing numbers from other industries is not accurate. The FSA said its rate of staff turnover was down. "During the dot-com boom, when banks were hiring like anything, turnover used to be about 20% a year and we were forced to use contract staff," said a spokesman, who added that the regulator was happy with the current turnover of about 9%.
Physicists are similarly sanguine. Paul Danielson, a physicist and former energy trader turned communications director at the Institute of Physics, said the prospect of moving to well-paid financial careers was an enticement to study the subject. "It's not a problem that people go from physics to banking. We would encourage it."
However, there are indications that banks are becoming less interested in staff from other industries. The head of recruitment at one US investment bank in London said converting inexperienced doctors and lawyers into corporate financiers was seen as expensive and risky.
One headhunter expressed surprise that Deutsche drew its new head of compliance from the FSA instead of banking. He said: "Banks need people who know complex financial products as well as the rule book."
Moreover, while banks hire people from other industries, they also give them back. Hector Sants, former chief executive of Credit Suisse First Boston in Europe, joined the FSA last year.
Steven Rolls, director of recruiting for Ernst & Young, the accountancy firm, said it employed plenty of people disenchanted with highly pressured banking lifestyles.
Christophe Waltenspuel, head of the energy M&A team at the accountancy firm, previously worked at UBS. He said several of his team were former bankers. "If you have a good year in a bank you can earn a lot of money but if you have a bad year, you're fired. Here, it's a steadier trajectory: the peaks and troughs are less pronounced."
Elsewhere, the distinction between banking and other careers may be narrowing. Research published last year suggested Cambridge dons live longer than other people but Miles said academic life was no longer the sinecure it used to be. He said: "The ratio of students to faculty members has gone up, the workload has gone up, there is more administrative work and the pay is truly dire."
If stressed academics seek solace in other careers, banks may not be to blame.