Are Major Banks a Good Career Path? The Pros and Cons

As you evaluate your career options, you may wonder whether a role at a major bank is the right path for you. On the one hand, large banks often offe… As you evaluate your career options, you may wonder whether a role at a major bank is the right path for you. On the one hand, large banks often offer…

As you evaluate your career options, you may wonder whether a role at a major bank is the right path for you.

On the one hand, large banks often offer competitive salaries, valuable work experience, and clear paths for career progression.

However, careers in banking also come with significant downsides like long work hours, high stress, job insecurity, and strict hierarchies.

Whether the pros outweigh the cons for you depends on your priorities and work preferences.

What Are the Major Banks in the US?

The largest banks in the US, often referred to as major or national banks, include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

These massive financial institutions offer career opportunities in various roles at locations across the country.

Pros of a Career at a Major Bank

  1. Job stability and security.

    Major banks are established, reputable companies that provide steady employment.

    They have survived economic downturns and financial crises.

  2. Competitive pay and benefits.

    Salaries and benefits at major banks are typically higher than smaller regional banks or credit unions.

    They also often provide retirement plans, healthcare, paid time off, and tuition reimbursement.

  3. Advancement opportunities.

    There are many ways to progress in your career at a major bank, including promotions to higher positions or transfers to different departments and locations.

    Banks value loyalty and experience.

  4. Valuable experience.

    Working at a leading bank provides experience that is attractive to other employers.

    You can gain knowledge about operations, compliance, risk management, investments, and more.

Cons of a Career at a Major Bank

  1. Long hours.

    Major banks often have demanding workloads and tight deadlines that frequently require working extended hours, weekends and holidays.

    This can lead to high stress and burnout.

  2. Impersonal environment.

    Some may find the large, bureaucratic structure of major banks too impersonal, making it difficult to feel valued or impactful.

    Processes can be inefficient.

  3. Strict policies.

    There are many rules, regulations and protocols to follow.

    While important for governance and risk management, some may find the constraints and lack of flexibility frustrating.

A career at a major US bank has significant advantages, but also some potential downsides to consider depending on your priorities and work preferences.

Evaluating all aspects will help determine if it is the right path for you.

The Pros of Working at a Major Bank

One of the biggest benefits of working at a major bank is job security and stability.

Large banks are established institutions that are unlikely to go out of business or downsize significantly.

They typically offer long-term career paths, competitive benefits, and pensions.

Advancement Opportunities

Major banks provide many opportunities for career growth and advancement.

They have extensive training programs to help employees gain new skills and take on more responsibility.

There are many possible career paths, from teller to loan officer to branch manager and beyond.

Ambitious employees have the potential to advance into high-paying leadership roles over the course of their careers.

Competitive Compensation

Large banks typically offer salaries and benefits that are competitive with the broader financial services industry.

Employees can expect annual bonuses, healthcare plans, retirement plans with employer matching, ample paid time off, and other perks.

Salaries for mid-level and senior roles at major banks are often quite generous.

While the work environment at a big bank may be more bureaucratic than at a smaller institution, many find the rewards of job security, career growth, and competitive pay to outweigh the downsides.

For those interested in lifelong careers in the banking industry, major banks represent a solid choice with many long-term benefits.

With hard work and persistence, employees can rise through the ranks at a large bank and achieve a successful, high-paying career.

The Cons of Working at a Major Bank

Working at a major bank certainly has its downsides to consider before pursuing a career in the industry.

Some of the potential cons include:

Job Security

While major banks are typically very stable, careers at these institutions can still be impacted by factors outside of one's control, such as acquisitions, restructuring, and downsizing.

Employees may face layoffs or role eliminations during periods of transition or economic downturn.

Those in more specialized roles could find their jobs at higher risk.

However, job security at a big bank is often still better than at a smaller company.

Long Hours and High Stress

Employees frequently work long hours, especially those in client-facing or revenue-generating roles.

The environment can also be high pressure, fast-paced, and demanding.

Meeting sales targets, managing high volumes of work, and keeping clients happy requires efficiency, accuracy, and endurance.

The long hours and high stress levels are not for everyone and can potentially lead to burnout over the long run without the right self-care and work-life balance practices in place.

Bureaucratic Challenges

Major banks are large institutions with many layers of management and strict procedures.

This can make it difficult to get things done and stifle creativity or innovation.

Employees have to navigate complex organizational hierarchies and red tape, follow rigid protocols, and obtain multiple approvals to make even minor changes or decisions.

The bureaucratic nature of big banks is frustrating for many and a turn-off for entrepreneurial types.

Career Paths and Advancement Opportunities

A career at a major bank can provide many opportunities for career growth and advancement.

However, the path is not always straightforward or easy.

Consider the following pros and cons of career progression at a large bank.

Many Career Tracks

Major banks typically have a variety of career tracks to choose from, whether you prefer working directly with clients, analyzing data and risks, developing technology solutions, or managing teams.

You could pursue roles like financial advisor, data scientist, software engineer, or branch manager.

There are many possible paths, allowing you to find the right fit based on your interests, education, and experience.

Training and Mentorship

Large banks usually offer formal training programs to help employees strengthen technical skills and prepare for more senior positions.

They also often have mentorship programs to help guide career development.

Having access to these resources and support systems can help you advance more quickly.

However, competition for the best opportunities may be fierce due to the size and scope of major banks.

Bureaucratic Challenges

While major banks provide stability and many career opportunities, their large size can also lead to more bureaucracy and politics.

Decision making may be slow, and you could face obstacles obtaining approvals or funding for new initiatives.

Promotions are not always based purely on merit but can depend on relationships, internal politics, and other factors outside of your control.

This can frustrate career progression and lead to a lack of work-life balance at times.

Job Security vs. Flexibility

Careers at big banks typically offer a high degree of job security, competitive pay, and good benefits.

However, they may lack some of the flexibility found at smaller companies.

It can be difficult to switch career tracks or take an unconventional path.

There are more defined structures and less ambiguity.

For some, this provides stability while for others it limits creativity.

Work Culture and Environment

Working in a major bank can provide a stable career with good pay and benefits.

However, the work culture and environment are not ideal for everyone.

There are several factors to consider regarding the work culture at a large bank.

Long Hours and High Pressure

Major banks typically have a fast-paced, high-pressure work environment with long hours.

Employees, especially those in higher positions, are often expected to work 50-70 hours a week to keep up with heavy workloads, tight deadlines and demanding managers or clients.

The long hours and high stress can lead to burnout and health issues if you're not able to set boundaries.

Strict Hierarchy and Bureaucracy

Large banks usually have a strict hierarchical structure with many rules, regulations and layers of bureaucracy.

It can be difficult to get things done or make changes.

Employees have little autonomy or flexibility in how they do their work.

There are strict procedures for nearly everything.

This rigid work environment does not suit individuals who prefer more independence and less red tape.

Competitive and Cutthroat

The finance industry is highly competitive, and this competitive spirit trickles down into the work culture.

Co-workers may be cutthroat, prioritizing their own success over teamwork or collaboration.

There is constant pressure to outperform your colleagues to get promotions and bonuses.

The competitive environment can damage work relationships and morale.

Diversity and Inclusion Challenges

Like many large companies, major banks struggle to build a truly diverse and inclusive work culture.

There are disproportionately fewer women and minorities in higher positions.

Discrimination and bias, especially unconscious bias, still negatively impact the recruitment, hiring, and advancement of underrepresented groups.

If diversity and inclusion are important to you, the culture at a big bank may be off-putting.

Salary and Benefits at Major Banks

Working for a major bank can provide a competitive salary and attractive benefits package.

According to Glassdoor, the average base pay for an entry-level bank teller in the U.S.

is $12 per hour, while a personal banker earns around $47,000 per year.

With performance-based bonuses and commissions, experienced bankers and loan officers can make $70,000-$100,000 annually or more.

As for benefits, most major banks offer the following:

  • Comprehensive health insurance (medical, dental, vision) for employees and their dependents.

    Some provide employee health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts.

  • Retirement plans such as 401(k)s, often with matching employer contributions.

    Some banks also offer traditional pensions.

  • Paid time off for holidays, vacations and sick days.

    Longer-term employees can earn up to 3-4 weeks of paid vacation per year.

  • Tuition reimbursement or assistance for continuing education and professional development.

    Banks want employees to strengthen their industry knowledge and skills.

  • Employee discounts on banking products like mortgages, loans, investment services and insurance policies.

    Some extend discounts to family members as well.

  • Opportunity for career growth and advancement to higher-paying roles.

    Major banks provide clear career paths for motivated employees.

While the salaries and benefits at big banks are appealing, the demanding work environment is not for everyone.

Long hours, sales targets, compliance requirements and frequent policy changes can lead to high stress and job dissatisfaction for certain individuals.

However, if you thrive in a fast-paced corporate culture and want stability and rewards, a career at a major bank may be a prudent choice.

By starting in an entry-level position and working your way up, you can build a lifelong career helping people achieve their financial goals.

Work-Life Balance in Banking

A career in banking can be rewarding, but the demanding hours and workload mean you'll need to find ways to achieve a good work-life balance.

Workload and Hours

The banking industry typically requires long hours, especially for higher-level positions.

Expect to work 50-70 hours per week or more, and likely be on call during off hours and weekends.

The workload also tends to be fast-paced, deadline-driven, and require precision.

To cope with the heavy workload and hours, try setting clear boundaries.

Leave work at work when possible and don't check email once you're off.

Take all your paid time off and vacations.

Make the most of flexible work options if offered, like working from home or compressed work weeks.

High-Pressure Environment

The banking field can also be high-pressure, as major decisions are made daily that impact both clients and the company's bottom line.

There are tight deadlines, demanding clients, and the need to perform at a very high level.

To relieve stress, build strong relationships with your coworkers and managers.

Mentorship and teamwork can help diffuse pressure.

Practice self-care through exercise, meditation, or yoga.

Make sure to also spend time with loved ones who support you.

Career Progression

While banking careers often start out with reasonable hours, workload and pressure increase significantly with career progression and promotions to higher leadership roles.

Be prepared to take on more responsibility, supervise teams, travel frequently, and have less schedule flexibility.

If work-life balance is very important, you may need to make difficult decisions regarding the career ladder.

You might choose a role with less advancement opportunity but also less demand on your time, or pursue career growth at a slower pace.

You could also consider a lateral move into a related field like finance with better hours.

Achieving a sustainable work-life balance in the banking sector requires effort and compromise.

But for the right person, the rewards of a successful career can make the challenges worthwhile.

With careful planning and priority-setting, you can establish boundaries that allow you to advance in your career while still leading a fulfilling personal life outside of work.

Advice for Getting Hired at a Major Bank

To land a job at a major bank, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Do Your Research

Learn as much as you can about the bank, its business areas, products, services, company culture, and key leaders.

Study the bank’s website thoroughly, follow them on social media, and read recent news reports about the company.

The more you understand the organization, the better you can convey your interest and passion in an interview.

Build Relevant Experience

While you’re still in school, try to gain experience that will benefit a career in banking.

Pursue internships, entry-level jobs, or volunteer roles in finance, accounting, business, or a related field.

Develop skills in areas like financial analysis, risk management, relationship management, and sales.

The work experience section of your resume is very important to employers, so start building it early.

Develop a Strong Resume

Your resume is your first chance to make a good impression.

Focus on quantifiable achievements and the impact of your work.

Use powerful and compelling language to describe your experience, skills, and accomplishments.

Emphasize any experience in banking, finance, client service, sales, and risk management.

For entry-level roles, also highlight relevant coursework, projects, leadership activities, and skills.

Prepare for the Interview

The competition for jobs at major banks is fierce, so you need to stand out in the interview.

Be ready to provide specific examples of situations where you have demonstrated key skills.

Bring copies of your resume, a notepad, and questions about the role and bank.

Dress in formal business attire and maintain enthusiastic body language.

Ask about next steps in the process and when you can expect to hear back.

Consider Additional Credentials

Earning certain credentials or degrees can help advance your career at a bank.

For example, many banks provide tuition reimbursement and time off for employees to pursue MBAs, finance certifications (e.g. CFA, CFP), or compliance certifications (e.g. Series 7 & 63).

Discuss continuing education opportunities with your manager to determine what additional credentials would be most valuable based on your interests and career path.

Continuously learning, building experience, and developing your skills and knowledge are the keys to success at any organization, especially at a major bank.

With hard work and persistence, you can land an opportunity at a top bank and quickly progress in your career.


As you can see, working for a major bank has significant advantages, including the potential for a high salary, job stability, and opportunities for career progression.

However, the demanding culture, long hours, and job insecurity during economic downturns are certainly downsides to consider.

Whether the pros outweigh the cons will depend on your own priorities and values.

If work-life balance and job fulfillment are most important, a large bank may not be the best path.

But if competitive pay and fast career growth are priorities, the rewards of working for a top bank could make the challenges worthwhile.

Evaluating both the benefits and drawbacks will help ensure you find a career that suits your needs and talents.

With careful consideration of the pros and cons, you can determine if a major bank is the right path for you.

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