Get ready to board the next wagon after banking

By Matthew Lynn

IT'S time to empty the wine bottles, clean the ashtrays and do something about the stains on the carpet. The party is over. The investment-banking boom, which ran from the mid-1980s until the start of the credit crunch, has now ended. There's no point in thinking you'll get another job. There won't be any.

Even though the industry will survive in some shape or form, it will be a shadow of its former self. It's time to start a whole new career, preferably one that offers lots of money and lets you swagger about the world like a king. The places to look are Africa, advertising, the environment, water, and organising live events.

In every generation, there is a 'top-dog' career. It is a profession where there are more opportunities and cash than anywhere else. In the early 20th century, it was automobiles. Then it was electrical goods, and later chemicals and synthetics. If you go back far enough, it was probably tulips or pyramids.

Just think about the line in the film 'The Graduate,' when Mr McGuire pulls aside Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, and looks at him seriously. 'I just want to say one word to you, just one word' he says. 'Plastics.'

For the past quarter-century, that one word would have been 'banking'. So what single word would Mr McGuire use in 2008? Here are five possibilities.

Africa: We all know that the continent is in a mess. Many of its economies are in chaos, many of the governments are corrupt and inept and, in some cases, populations are falling. In countries such as Zimbabwe, the economy has all but collapsed amid hyperinflation. Yet, the world can't just ignore Africa. It has vast mineral wealth and huge quantities of underused land that are needed for food and bio-fuels.

On top of that, there is the humanitarian challenge. Over the next two decades, Africa must be integrated into the global economy. Infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, industries nurtured, and trade restored to improve living standards and deliver resources to the world. Once that process gets started, the natural wealth of the continent means it should boom.

The environment: A few doubters aside, not many people question climate change anymore. It is a growing problem. Yet, we are still at the foothills of switching to a post-carbon economy. Everything from travel to manufacturing to food production and household heating needs to be re-engineered. Forget about complex derivatives. If you can get involved in designing a better internal combustion engine, the world will open up for you.

Advertising: Traditional marketing is dead. There is no point in producing witty one-minute ads for television when everyone is watching YouTube. Newspaper advertising is irrelevant when people grab news stories off the Internet. But that doesn't mean companies shouldn't market their products anymore.

In a hypercompetitive global economy, brands will be more important than ever. Your product needs a character that keeps its customers loyal as much as before. To make that happen, the advertising industry requires re-invention. All the old rules need to be ditched, and new ones created. When it happens, there will be lots of new jobs for smart young marketing executives.

Water: The basics of life don't come much more fundamental. Yet, the stuff is in increasingly short supply.

'Unless we take action, water will be the next global crisis, emerging from the shadow of climate change and today's food and fuel crises,' Lars Thunell, chief executive officer of the World Bank's International Finance Corp, said at a conference in Stockholm in August.

As we grow richer, we use and waste more water. Plenty of it falls from the sky, especially here in England, but storing and transporting it will be a huge challenge. As the world comes to grips with that, another new set of openings will be created.

Live events: New technology isolates people. Broadband allows them to work from home, while online social networking replaces mixing with friends. But humans are social animals. They like to go out.

Look at the way live music has boomed as CD sales have collapsed. Anything that involves getting people out of the house and bringing them together in new ways will be huge. How about stadium karaoke events? Or mass tug-of-wars? They could be as big as sub-prime mortgages.

As one career fades, another takes its place. Banking may no longer be the way to make your fortune. But there's always another wagon ready to roll. It's just a question of figuring out which platform and grabbing your seat before the train leaves. -- Bloomberg

The writer is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

This article was first published in The Business Times on October 10, 2008.


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