Wall Streeters Lament Path Not Taken as Job Satisfaction Slides

  • Almost a third ages 35 to 45 would pick a different career
  • Survey finds medical profession is among the most coveted

If they could do it all over again, almost a third of Wall Street traders and investment bankers in their prime would pick a different profession.

Bonuses crimped by regulation and choppy markets, long hours and job security threatened by cost-cutting have taken a toll on finance job satisfaction: 30 percent of investment bankers and 32 percent of traders ages 35 to 45 said they would’ve gone into a different trade, according to New York-based recruiter Options Group. The firm reached 1,467 workers in the U.S., Asia and Europe in a survey completed this month.

While job satisfaction fell this year at big banks, investment boutiques and hedge funds, the drop was most pronounced at the biggest global investment banks: 51 percent of respondents were satisfied with their jobs, compared with 58 percent in 2014. 

Investment bankers cited the buy side -- that is, hedge funds and pensions (8 percent) -- along with medicine (7 percent), private equity (6 percent) and engineering (5 percent) as the most appealing alternative careers.

For those toiling in trading and sales, technology (21 percent) and the buy side (11 percent) were the most desirable. Three percent would’ve become dentists.

‘Altruistic Side’

Among unfulfilled buy-side employees -- think front office staff including money managers and research analysts -- medicine (18 percent) and technology (12 percent) were the most popular areas.

The recurrence of medicine as a coveted career “shows that even though they’re working in finance, there is this altruistic side, they want to help people,” said Jessica Lee, an Options Group director who conducted the survey.

The silver lining for bankers and traders? At least they’re not the firm’s computer jockeys.

Quants, who use computers to measure risk or figure out when to place trades, and others in information technology had the highest measure of regret -- 44 percent ages 35 to 45 would’ve done something else. That includes working for a technology firm (16 percent), in medicine (13 percent) or founding a startup (5 percent).

Older Workers

The regret ratio generally climbed as workers got older. A notable exception: Among traders in the oldest age group, only 17 percent would’ve gone into another profession. That compares with 32 percent of those ages 35 to 45, indicating that gray hairs in the field are content (and probably rich).

“Those guys who are still employed at older than 45 will be very senior and good enough to survive all the headcount reductions over the past six years,” Lee said.

Maybe it’s best not to wonder what if. By far the most popular response to the question, “What profession would you have chosen?” was, “Don’t know.”

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