Magazine article American Banker

Culture Shock Revisited: Coming Home; Bankers Must Cope with Yet Another Wave of Transitions after Working Overseas

Magazine article American Banker

Culture Shock Revisited: Coming Home; Bankers Must Cope with Yet Another Wave of Transitions after Working Overseas

Article excerpt

Cultured shock works both ways, and for many bankers, readjusting to stateside life after a stint overseas is often as hard as it was getting used to the countries to which they were first assigned.

"The more successfully they adjust to the overseas environment the more difficult it is for them to readjust back home," says Nancy Carter, Chase Manhattan vice president in charge of international compensation for the repatriating bankers.

Bankers encouter a host of personal and professional problems returning home, ranging from having lost touch with current fashions and fads to serious difficulties finding housing and schools for their children.

But the most difficult problem of all may be corporate culture shock -- readjusting to being enmeshed once again in the vast and often unwieldy, not to mention unyielding, bureaucracy that's especially obvious at a bank's headquarters.

At any time, this transition posed problems for returning bankers. But the problem has been exacerbated in recent years, a number of bankers interviewed for this article said, because much of the luster has faded from international banking.

Rescheduling after rescheduling of loans around the world has taken its toll, not only on the glamour of the area but on its profitability as well. And that, in turn, has led to reduced career potential both at home and overseas, where many expatriate bankers are being replaced by locals.

Compounding these difficulties, bankers find themselves returning to institutions whose ways of doing business have changed greatly in the intervening years -- the result of the great competitive pressures of deregulation and nonbank inroads into traditional banking operations.

"We're really obsolete," said one banker who has returned from an overseas post during the last 12 months. "Any expatriate coming back home to the domestic banking structure who's been away for five years is going to find it difficult to cope. It takes a minimum of one year to get your feet back on the ground."

Because of the problems in the international arena, many bankers find themselves forced to make considerable changes in their career aspirations.

"International specialists find little demand for them -- not just in the bank but at the competition as well," says this banker.

"You have to make whatever decisions are necessary, whether that means taking a paycut or a demotion. Maybe it's better to take it now and work up a second stream."

Overseas, most bankers are pretty much on their own. And, even when they're not full-fledged branch managers, they may be entitled to such perks as chauffeured cars.

Back home, the freewheeling life is curtailed not only by having to drive their own cars or fight to the death on subways, but by the much different corporate culture.

"It's not something we talk about much. But we've got a constant problem with people coming back who are used to running their own show and then running into the bureaucracy," says an official at a major New York bank.

"There are a lot more branch offices overseas than senior positions back home," says this official. "There are just not a lot of senior positions. It's the old problem of the pyramid highlighted."

"Instead of being in a very small operation with a broad array of decision making powers, coming back to a large bureaucratic organization means you have to be more of a team player," notes Ms. Carter. Chase currently has about about 550 U.S. citizens at the officer level working overseas.

In the mid-1970s, international was the glamour spot of banking, where the best and brightest in an organization went to make their name. Many of the major money center banks drew disproportionate shares of their income from overseas. Increasingly, regional banks began entering into the field.

Then, suddenly, as the international debt crisis began to raise its ugly head at bank board and stockholder meetings, many banks began cutting their exposures overseas, in some cases shuttering offices that were barely warmed up. …

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