Can Banks Make Wall Street Sexy Again for Millennials?

Student debt programs may help banks woo talent back to industry
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Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Ask a bright 20-something graduate where he or she wants to work and chances are they will tell you Google. That’s a far cry from before the global banking meltdown when whiz kids saw a career on Wall Street as a badge of honor.

At a time when student debt is at at a record, the banking community is exploring the idea of helping you pay off those pesky college loans as a way to attract top talent again. Starting next month, the American Bankers Association will contribute $1,200 toward student loans, with a cap of $10,000. Almost a third of its 345 employees are indebted from their college days.

“We’re going to encourage all of our members to consider offering this benefit as well, to make banks across the country be a coveted employer for millennials in their specific community,” said Rob Nichols, ABA president and CEO.

The Washington-based bank lobbyist isn’t the first to look at this. The U.S. military covers tuition costs for active duty and some reserve members. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP last year unveiled a program similar to that of the ABA. Still, only about 4 percent of companies in the U.S. offer to chip in.

Millennials may be the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, but the financial crisis has tarnished the image of banks in their eyes. But with 43 million Americans saddled with college debt – the average loan is about $30,000 – banks are appealing directly to their wallets.

That may not be enough. Many young graduates are rejecting the decades-old formula of working long hours in entry-level banking jobs, hoping for a shot at making millions later. Some employers in the industry have banned work past midnight or on Saturdays, but still can’t match some of the more lavish job perks at tech companies.

Take Netflix, which last year announced unlimited time off for parents during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

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