As Victor Perez began preparing last year to leave the Navy and change careers, the 30-year-old decided to seek a job in investment banking. But one employer after another turned away the certified nuclear engineer and submarine officer, telling him he lacked the required experience.
On Monday, Perez’s investment banking career finally gets rolling when he starts a new job in Charlotte with Wells Fargo. The San Francisco-based bank hired Perez after he completed Wells Fargo’s inaugural internship program for veterans, a project that ran in Charlotte from April through May.
In all, seven veterans were offered jobs after receiving eight weeks of training in Wells Fargo’s investment banking operation, the part of the bank that offers Wall Street-style services. Participants praised the program for giving veterans with zero banking background a shot at landing jobs that would have been tough for them to get otherwise.
“It provides the opportunity for veterans to get into the finance industry,” said Perez, who willwork for Wells Fargo as a trader in uptown Charlotte’s Duke Energy Center. “Usually, without an internship or anything like that it’s impossible for you to get into these jobs.”
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Although Wall Street has faced criticism for its role in the financial crisis, investment banking remains one of the most-coveted jobs in financial services. Competition for positions is fierce, as they can sometimes lead to six-figure salaries in addition to massive bonuses.
Illustrating the demand, investment banks are typically flooded with requests with summer internship requests from college and university students, who submit applications for thousands more positions than are available each year.
Wells Fargo’s program for veterans drew more than 500 applicants. Eight internships were awarded. Since 2012, Wells Fargo said it has hired more than 5,800 veterans.
Other banks also employ large numbers of veterans. Charlotte-based Bank of America said it has hired more than 2,000 veterans each of the past two years, a rate it expects to maintain for the next several years.
Jose Nunez, a 31-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in music, is among the Wells Fargo interns who will now work for the bank, which has its biggest investment banking hub in Charlotte.
The former Black Hawk helicopter pilot who flew missions over Central America said he was surprised to find many similarities between banking and the military. Both jobs sometimes require decision-making with little information at hand, he said.
“You have to make decisions. You have to make them quickly,” Nunez said.
Some of the Wells Fargo interns were barely out of college and just starting their military careers when the financial crisis was starting to unfold. They are entering banking at a time when the industry remains under attack by critics, including those pushing for constraints on banker pay.
“Am I concerned about the reputation I could be getting? Absolutely,” Perez said.
“But it’s more like you love the job,” he said. “You’re really helping clients. They need capital to be able to do business deals. So, you’re actually providing a service, and it’s just not seen that way.”
Jason Young, a 32-year-old Army sergeant, said he’s prepared for his Wells Fargo job to be fast-paced when it starts Monday. But not as intense as the military, where he received a Bronze Star for his actions in Afghanistan.
“Nobody’s life is in danger,” Young said. “At the end of the day, you can go home and have a warm meal ... and that’s nice.”