Wall Street banks explore option of ‘virtual internships’
Investment banks including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, UBS and Citigroup are exploring “virtual internships” for students due to join them this summer, as the coronavirus pandemic forces banks to come up with a Plan B for one of Wall Street’s oldest rites of passage.
People familiar with the situation told the Financial Times that the four banks, which declined to comment on their plans, were exploring the feasibility of remote working for thousands of twenty-somethings they have agreed to hire for about 10 weeks.
Their deliberations are part of a wider trend among financial services groups as they approach the traditional June start date for programmes.
A survey by the Ivy Research Council, a consultancy that advises big companies on hiring entry-level talent, found that 18 per cent of financial services companies believed a “fully virtual internship” was the most likely outcome for their 2020 summer recruits.
Another 5 per cent of the 22 finance employers surveyed were planning shorter virtual programmes, while 36 per cent expected to start with a virtual programme and then progress to a conventional one once the coronavirus threat passes.
A further 36 per cent said they would most likely have a normal internship with a later start date, while 5 per cent were looking at moving students to future programmes.
“Financial services is ahead of the curve [in planning for interns],” said Carter Bradley, co-founder at Ivy Research Council, who expects the decisions to be made by mid-April.
Mr Bradley said most banks were planning to pay their interns in full as agreed and create some type of programme for them even if coronavirus meant they could not come to the office. “Financial services is so competitive that it would be hard to be the only one to cancel.”
Citigroup plans to tell its 1,500 interns it will push back their start date to July 6 from June 1, but will pay them for the 10 weeks they signed up for even though they will only work five, a person familiar with the bank’s plans said. Citi is also considering virtual options for the programme, the person said.
Traditional Wall Street internships are immersive affairs in which interns learn technical skills, forge bonds with peers, get hands-on experience and try to make a mark on senior executives who may some day hire them.
JPMorgan’s objective was to “replicate every piece of what an internship would involve” including social engagement, said a person familiar with the bank’s planning, adding: “We haven’t quite figured out how we’re going to deliver it”.
The bank, which hires about 3,000 interns globally every year and has pushed this year’s start date to July, plans to use technology including virtual mixers to immerse students.
JPMorgan’s 2020 graduates were likely to get “less ability to interact with clients”, the person said, both because there would be no in person meetings and because coronavirus meant lots of clients were less active.
Finance companies’ biggest concerns about running virtual internships included network connection issues and virtual programmes being “too complex” to develop and manage properly.
Ivy Research also surveyed graduates, who expressed a strong preference for full-length virtual internships over other options. The students said their biggest concerns about remote work were that they might not be taken seriously and might not receive adequate training.
One of JPMorgan’s summer interns from last year said meetings allowed her to “see how an office worked”, adding that there was “nothing like meeting high level executives in person and seeing them speak”.
Additional reporting by Kristen Talman in New York