Think “finance,” and your brain probably doesn’t take too long to land on “Wharton.” Yet for two straight documented years in 2016 and 2017, the top finance school in the country had not been The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2016, Wharton slipped under Columbia Business School in number of graduates finding work in the industry, and a year later, the percentage of Wharton MBAs pursuing careers in finance dropped even further, to a record low of 32.7%.
The king is dead?
Yeah, right. With 36.9% of their class of 813 going to work in finance, Wharton bounced back big in 2018. Most went into either investment banking (13%) or private equity/venture capital (13.1%), with a smaller number working in investment management (6.7%) — see a detailed breakdown of industries below. Wharton was followed by four other finance feeders at greater than 30%: NYU Stern (33.8%), Columbia (32.2%), Chicago Booth (31.6%), and Stanford GSB (31%).
Wharton’s finance resurgence is one piece of good news for the industry, but it comes as the field faces flat or negative growth in most other places. Of 35 schools in the U.S. and Europe examined by P&Q, 19 saw negative hiring growth in finance in the three years between 2016 and 2018, while two (Stanford and Dartmouth Tuck) were flat. In all, eight schools lost a fifth of their volume of finance grads or worse in three years; the steepest drop-offs came at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, which saw a 36.4% slip from 17.3% to 11%, trailed by INSEAD (from 14% to 9.4%, down 32.9%), Minnesota Carlson (10% to 7%, down 30%), Georgetown (30% to 21.7%, a decrease of nearly 28%), Notre Dame Mendoza (18.8% to 14.1%, a drop of 25%), and UCLA Anderson (19.6% to 14.9%, a 24% slide). Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, tied with Harvard Business School at 29% of finance grads — sixth-most of any top school — nonetheless lost 3 percentage points on its total between 2016 and 2018.
Not pretty. And we haven’t even touched on salary yet. (Read on for the gruesome details.)
MAKING (LESS) MONEY WITH A FINANCE MBA
As we prepare for the release of 2019 employment reports this fall and winter, Poets&Quants is taking one last look at the jobs picture for the Class of 2018. One of the things that stands out, perhaps even more clearly than when the reports were released, is how employment has shifted at many schools from finance to tech and other fields. Why did Columbia slip? Because more MBAs chose consulting. What’s behind Duke’s 2-percentage-point drop? Tech again. It’s nice, and edifying, to look back three years (or even further) to get a sense of industry trends.
One of the most obvious trends in finance, we have found, is that salaries are largely static. Or, at least, they are not growing at the pace they have in the not-too-distant past.
Of 35 schools examined by P&Q, 15 saw zero change in their median base salary. For most, that meant no increase from $125,000: Stern, Booth, Harvard Business School, Yale SOM, Dartmouth Tuck, Michigan Ross, and Duke Fuqua all are in this boat. Wharton needed a $10,000 boost to reach $125,000. The highest median salary growth occurred at CMU Tepper, which saw finance salaries bump up $12,500 to $122,500. (Some schools that report averages instead of median tallies reported higher growth and greater totals.) Meanwhile, three schools lost ground in salaries: Vanderbilt Owen, which dropped to $115,000 from $125,000 in 2016, and a pair of European schools: IESE, which slipped about $5,000 from its average base, and London Business School, which dropped about $1,600.
The highest reported median base salaries are at Stanford and HBS, both at $150,000; Stanford needed a boost of $7,500 to get there, where Harvard has been waiting since 2016. But if we take a closer look at the these and the other top 10 schools in P&Q‘s ranking, we get a better idea of what’s going on in the larger landscape. The average of median base salaries for the 10 most elite schools is $132,250, less than $3,000 higher than it was in 2016 ($129,500); six of 10 saw no growth in median base salary at all. In terms of signing bonuses, there was actually regression: the average of medians for the top 10 schools in 2016 was $39,078; last year it had slipped to $36,806.
SOME SILVER LININGS
The vaunted top 10, and especially the M7, are supposed to be largely immune to these things. But looking at hiring trends at the elite schools in 2016 compared to now, that’s where the plateau is most pronounced. The top 10 schools averaged 24.04% finance hires by industry three years ago; in 2018, they averaged 24.02%. Doesn’t get much flatter than that. By function, they averaged 26.2% in 2016; in 2018, that number had actually slipped to 24.6%.
But enough with the dour pronouncements. Six of the top 10 schools were actually in positive territory in finance hiring growth over the last three years, at an average of 9.2%; the biggest jump was at Michigan Ross, which saw 15.4% growth, from 13.6% to 15.7%. And elsewhere, some schools have seen greater investment in finance among their grads, particularly Washington University in St. Louis, where the Olin Business School had an incredible 83.3% jump in finance hires, from 12% to 22%. Meanwhile, the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business (4-point jump to 18%), Yale SOM (from 19.7% to 23.1%), Indiana Kelley (9.7% to 12%), and USC Marshall (13% to 16%) all saw finance growth.
On the money front, there was one positive development: Some schools saw big bonus action. The top sign-on bonus was at UCLA Anderson, where nearly 60% of finance grads (about 54 students in all) reported a median bonus of $47,500; meanwhile at Dartmouth, 80% of finance MBAs — about 49 students — reported a median bonus figure of $46,250.
See the next page for the full chart of leadings B-schools’ finance grads, salaries, bonuses, and more.