After two decades in banking, the training and onboarding new graduates pretty much runs on autopilot for most managing directors. Over time, you delegate more and more of the responsibility to your team until you get to a point where the process is seamless and consistent across cycles. This year, however, a certain pandemic, however, blew that theory right out of the water.
Bringing graduate hires into banks in 2020 is requiring old dogs to learn entirely new tricks. Despite the fact that banks have an e-learning for literally everything, prior to this year, no one had ever completed the module on virtual training and onboarding, so this is new to everyone. Working from home has been productive for many firms. However, it's very different working from home for a firm you know inside out than joining one virtually, especially when it is your first job in life, and so we have had to be very cognizant of this when re-imagining the experience for new graduates.
The formal portion of graduate training, i.e. the material to be covered for regulatory exams, the in-house presentations on your investment bank and guest speaker series, most would agree, are actually going to be even easier to execute online. As schools up and down the country are already realizing, educating online can be much more efficient: the lack of physical interaction reduces distraction and exercises and grading can be completed very easily. This part of the process was never going to be an issue. The real problem is work shadowing and on-the-job training.
If you're a graduate joining a bank this year, it's here that you'll see the big differences compared to the virtual internship programs run by banks this summer. It is pretty straight forward to construct the internship experience. Since they are not going to be attached to just one desk full-time, and are limited in tasks they can do anyway as a function of regulations, it's easy to make their internship more about breadth of exposure. Moreover, rather than 2 weeks of training and 4 weeks rotating through two different desks, which is the standard structure, the internship at some banks has been drastically reduced to as little as five weeks, comprised of up to four mini ‘rotations’. Work-shadowing is then simply conducted by whoever ‘on the desk’ at the time is less busy, and since they are just giving a flavor of the experience, it is easily carried out by the most junior colleagues.
For graduates, however, we will need to formalize work-shadowing of each member of the team on a systematic basis. We've been thinking of deploying screen mirroring, whilst maintaining a conversation over the phone with trainees so that we can explain what we're thinking and doing. There is reason to believe that this could work, but it will not always be possible for juniors to then listen in on conversations with clients.
The problem is that a lot of learning at the early stage of a banking career happens by sheer absorption and exposure. If everyone's working remotely, something will inevitably be lost in the experience. On the plus side, since formal one-on-ones with managers will be mandated in the schedule by HR, graduates will get even more exposure than usual to senior management. It is easy to perpetually postpone meetings when on the desk, when your phone is constantly ringing and you are constantly in fictitious ‘important meetings’. This is harder to do when you are tangibly less busy and HR is sending you a video link to join at a designated time.
If you're a student joining this summer, be assured that banks are doing their best to make the experience as real as possible: arranging virtual dinners, setting juniors up with high quality tech equipment, and sending them branded merchandise, so they feel closer to the firm. However, trading floor etiquette, the levels of professionalism demanded, and the informal hierarchies and networks that exist can only be truly learned by physically being present, and so that side of their education will unavoidably be postponed for now.
Socially, something else will certainly be lost. My preferred method of onboarding a new team member historically, has been to take the team to a nearby bar, have a couple of drinks, then leave my credit card behind the bar and exit, leaving the more junior members of the team there to bond. That may seem a little old school, but it is more often than not rather effective in breaking down barriers and making the new arrival feel comfortable in their new home. In the Covid-19 world in which we now inhabit that is no longer feasible.
‘Bonding’ virtually is a very different experience. A lot can also be lost in translation over video calls, you miss a lot of visual cues and the like. Nevertheless, despite my assumption that this could all turn out horribly, credit must be given to banks and their thoughtful HR staff, who are on the whole seemingly making material efforts to ensure that the experience of new graduates is as pleasant and rewarding as possible, and I do hope it is appreciated.
Chris Ramos is a pseudonym
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