Most MBAs would not associate JPMorgan Chase, which posted $24.4 billion of profit in 2015, with careers that pack positive societal impact.
But even at the venerable Wall Street investment bank, which paid out nearly $33 billion over four years in misconduct fines, opportunities to do good while doing well are emerging.
Ankita Srivastava spent two years as an analyst at JPMorgan’s corporate and investment banking division in Mumbai. Alongside analysing revenue growth and budget planning, she worked with an NGO, educating underprivileged children who come from poverty-stricken homes. “These kids deserve equal opportunities,” Ankita says.
JPMorgan bankers could volunteer their time to touch lives in India, and could even ask the firm to deduct a small amount from their salaries to go to the NGO, says Ankita, who is studying for an MBA at Lancaster University Management School.
And such initiatives are not uncommon in financial services, says Richard Bland, head of finance careers at London Business School. “The banks are spending more time trying to give sabbaticals to people who want to volunteer,” he says, adding wishfully: “You can impact the world in banking too.”
This matters to MBAs. Most of them are millennials — marketing jargon for a 20-something — who are more concerned with fulfilment, work-life balance and making a positive contribution to society and the environment, than they are about earning six-figure salaries.
According to a 2016 survey of 7,700 millennials by Deloitte, the professional services firm, 88% will only stay at an employer long-term if they focus on their “sense of purpose” and less on profit.
This is what motivated Katya Akulinicheva to begin an MBA at INSEAD, after an investment banking career at Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and Lazard. “My ultimate objective was to learn what social impact was,” she says. When she graduated last year, Katya joined Dalberg, an advisory firm focused on development investing, as a senior consultant.
A survey of 1,500 MBA students in 2015 by Bain & Company found 66% of women and 59% of men planned to put positive social impact ahead of financial gains. And a study of 3,700 students at 29 business schools by Yale University found 44% are willing to accept a lower salary to work for a company with better environmental practices.
“I turned down a six-figure job,” says Elsa Sze, a Harvard Business School MBA, who founded Agora, a tech start-up that empowers citizens to have a political voice.
She’s worked at McKinsey, UBS, Goldman, and JPMorgan. “In the past I’ve lived in luxury condos,” Elsa says. “Now I live in a tiny, tiny studio.”
While there have long been MBA jobs in areas such as international development with the World Bank or IMF, the explosion of careers in more sexy sectors, from private investment to technology, is gathering pace. “There has been an enormous increase in social impact-driven for-profit companies that are growing and looking to hire,” says Erin Worsham, director of social entrepreneurship at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
As an example Ernst & Young, the Big Four services firm, is scooping up MBAs for its climate change and sustainability practice, according to Simon Abrams, a senior manager at the group.
“There are really good jobs, which need really good people [because] social impact is increasingly important for every sector,” he says.
Ben Mangan, director for the Center for Social Sector Leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says opportunities for impact are growing at consultancies like Deloitte and McKinsey because firms are striving to attract and retain top talent.
“Big companies see the desire among millennials to have more meaning,” he says.
While most large corporations are swimming lengths to attract millennials, they are ultimately held back by short-term financial goals. The implications for employers who rely on the crème of the crop could be grave.
Wally Hopp, senior associate dean at Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says some MBAs are sceptical about working at large companies altogether.
“If traditional organizations are going to capture these highly talented people, they will need to not just focus on people climbing the greasy pole to the C-suite,” he says.
Start-ups have seized upon the opportunity. “We see student interest in social start-ups that are disrupting financial services,” says Julie Morton, associate dean for career services at Chicago’s Booth School of Business, who points to impact investment advisory firms.
Banks have been among the worst hit. “The biggest investment banks used to have lines around the block from the most ambitious students. That is no longer the case,” says Daniela Papi-Thornton, deputy director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.
A survey of 16,000 millennials by Universum found that 73% value work-life balance more than a higher salary; 82% work-life balance over their position in a company. Banks have been some of the worst culprits on this front.
Elle Connor, an associate recruiter at Morgan Stanley’s investment bank, says: “It’s not a secret that investment banking is a challenging career. [But] we’ve made sure there are opportunities to improve the work-life balance.”
Tech has been one of the big beneficiaries of banks’ downfall. “It has become very attractive to work in the technology sector,” says Emily Taylor, director of MBA career education at UCLA Anderson School of Management. “….The level and scale of impact that these companies can make for their customers can be attractive.”
Impact is what tempted Ashley Bienvenu to Google in Silicon Valley as a development executive responsible for mobile partnerships in 2014, a year after completing an MBA at HEC Paris.
“Google allows you to use your assets and knowledge to make a tangible impact,” says Ashley, who is now a manager with Google Express, the search giant’s grocery deliveries business.