More than 10 years ago, when I first started in my career, I didn’t know any better. I thought banking was the career to go - the star analysts, travelling for work, people craving for your advice and views and the respect that comes with it.
As with all careers, I began working hard to learn from my seniors with the hope that one day I could become like them. But I think finance has changed so much since.
In the last 10 years, our seniors made money through exchanging their time and efforts in banking. Most of them bought properties, which appreciated in value as well. As a result, most of them can retire quite comfortably by now living off rental income.
However, the fact is profitability of the industry has also shrunk since the crisis leading to fewer opportunities. The industry is suffering from ever increasing competition squeezing margins, regulatory/compliance constraints and threat of technologies such as AI replacing some functions.
The graphs below demonstrate companies by market cap in 2006 and 2016. Back in 2006, there were a few banks such as Citigroup, BoA and HSBC on the list but by 2016, none of them are on the list anymore.
Therefore, by the time our generation was supposed to take over, there are fewer opportunities and with comparably less compensation compared to before. In asset prices terms, our time and effort are worth much less than our seniors.
Meanwhile, as can be seen in the above chart, technology companies have taken over.
Personally, I used to love playing ICQ, mIRC many many years ago. But back then, my mother and the society I was exposed to taught me that was wrong. I should be studying instead and so I forced myself to study and tried my best to go through what society told me was the right path and hang on for the next 20 years.
Then what happened was society decided what I was doing was no longer valuable and when society dumps you its brutal. It was increasingly difficult for me to use my skills because they are been competed away and in the last few years of my banking career I just tried to hang on. It was stressful while I was trying to extract every bit left of my career.
In the end, I realised a change was long overdue and after some personal development programs, the fact that change is the only constant in life. I came to the conclusion that I have invested enough of my life in IB and got to as high as I could given my personality.
From now, I wanted to make sure I was struggling towards my own goal not society’s goal. It took me a while to pivot, beginning from fintech, startup, entrepreneurship then education.
My vision is of a freelance society where individuals can earn multiple streams of income removing the stress of job insecurity and also continuous learning. I don’t believe in a 9–5 job.
Then again, there is an argument we are reaching the peak of tech. My argument to this is that the banking world is based on a traditional hierarchy model where innovation is not appropriately encouraged and rewarded. Most employees are there because of the money and defending their status.
I found this is not sustainable from my own personal experience. It is like forcing yourself to study for a subject. You can do it for a few months or even a few years but the guy that is more passionate at it will succeed much more than you eventually.
Setting goals at banking is difficult because you are so busy. In Chinese, the word busy is a combination of death and heart. In a way, being busy is just another way of being lazy.
Most of my ex-colleagues are not happy in their jobs but their jobs are their lives and they started thinking more once they have children or reached a certain age.
In entrepreneurship, you are encouraged to follow your passion, something you would do even if the money wasn’t there. Personally, my mindset change has made me so much happier even though I have much less money to spend. It is something that I hope I can transpire to my daughters as well.