Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

An MBA with strings attached

Often viewed as a means to expand job options, change careers or become more marketable in the employment field, an MBA or an Executive MBA can also be a useful tool to expand one’s general knowledge or to specialise in an area such as banking and finance.

However, with most employers closely watching overheads these days, recruitment firms report that companies willing to pay for a business degree for their staff usually do so with a range of terms and conditions attached.

Eunice Ng, director at Avanza Consulting Pacific, says that while MBAs may not be needed in some banking and finance jobs, the title can prove useful in investment banking and corporate finance.

“Financial services companies often encourage employees to pursue a master’s programme relevant to their profession. But when it comes to hiring, they will always look at experience and a proven track record ahead of an MBA,” says Ng.

When financial qualifications are evaluated as part of the hiring process, Ng says many employers tend to look at MBA or masters programmes that are specific to job-related areas. These can include qualifications in financial management, master of engineering, as well as master of financial analytics and financial engineering.

According to Ng, more and more finance firms are beginning to look at business qualifications as part of an employee’s individual personal development responsibility, and therefore offer
only partial or selective financial support.

“Even without financial support from an employer, working on an MBA can send a signal to the company management that you’re ambitious, and that you are gaining new skills that could make you more valuable to the company,” says Ng.

However, she cautions that if an employer believes that funding an employees’ MBA programme will benefit the business, the company might still sponsor the staff, but it is likely to be on a selective basis and there will almost certainly be provisos attached. Usually, this involves staying with the company for a minimum period or paying back the cost on a sliding scale.

Whether someone aims to secure an MBA with an eye on higher future income or enhanced career opportunities, recruitment firms point out that how and where an individual studies for an MBA qualification make a difference.

Also, for many MBA applicants, the full-time versus distance-learning debate is a pivotal issue. According to talent recruitment agencies, employers are usually satisfied with MBA credentials that appear on the Financial Times or Forbes business degree rankings.

Marc Burrage, regional director at Hays in Hong Kong, says while there is modest demand from insurance and banking firms for candidates with MBAs, it is generally more a preference than a requirement. “Employers may look at MBA and similar qualifications favourably, but it is very rarely their principal criterion for selecting a candidate,” he says.

Nevertheless, he adds that there are several banking and finance firms that will consider subsidising the cost of educational programmes if they believe it will benefit both the business and employee. “The cost of MBA programmes is considerable to a company and therefore many will only offer the opportunity to high-performing talent who they see as having long-term potential for the company,” says Burrage.

Echoing Burrage’s observations, John Mullally, manager of financial services at Robert Walters, notes that fewer companies are willing to cover the cost of employee’s MBA programmes. Among companies that subsidise or cover the full costs, larger multinational private equity firms are most prominent.

“Typically, private equity firms take in analyst or associate-level hires for two years and send them to a top-ranking business school if they believe that they have the potential to become senior management material,” says Mullally, who notes that funding usually comes with a caveat that the employee commits to the firm post-MBA – usually for three to four years – or pays back a big chunk of the tuition fees.