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Are 'charity-working' bankers really just sell-outs?

The gleaming skyscrapers of the City seem a far cry from dimly-lit charity shops - why aspire to both?
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The gleaming, glass skyscrapers of the City seem a far cry from the typical, dimly-lit charity shop. Yet some students aspire to straddle both worlds. Are they 'selling out'? No, argues third year student Alex Iltchev.

You're putting on a charity fundraiser?!" asked a colleague of mine during our internship at an investment bank, when I told him news of what I was planning. He couldn't have been more surprised had I told him I intended to invest in sub-prime debt. But why? Is the idea of a charitable investment banker that crazy?

It is to a lot of people. The stereotypical image of a banker - ruthless, cut-throat, money-driven - would seem at odds with the stereotypical image of a philanthropist - good-natured, generous, and driven less by money than by the impulse to help those less fortunate than themselves.

But not all investment bankers fit this stereotypical mould. For instance, Sandy Weill, former CEO of Citigroup, has pledged to give away $1.4 billion to charities. Cynics will dismiss this as an empty gesture given that Mr Weill already has a lot of money, is currently sitting on a cool $1 million pension package, and has a lot of time on his hands, a luxury only the extremely well off can afford.

I am less cynical, naturally.

My first charitable venture was a presentation I gave at my old school, Eton College, about a charity I had worked for during my gap year. My aim was to spread awareness about the charity and to encourage students - particularly leavers - to volunteer on their gap year. This led me into organising a squash fundraiser.

The result: 10 boys playing non-stop for over five hours. Money raised: over £1300, for CENI (Centre for the Working Girl, based in Quito, Ecuador).

Since the success of that event I haven't looked back. Over the course of my first two years at university, I went on to organise another squash fundraiser, a charity dating event and a series of fundraiser club nights.

There are so many different motivations behind people's involvement in charity work: for the buzz you get out of working together with like-minded people with shared goals; for the sense of satisfaction you get from pulling off a successful event; for the personal development that comes with the challenges charity work presents; and, last but not least, because it's fun. These are the reasons why I do it.

The point is, the motivation to do charity work is perfectly reconcilable the motivation work in banking.

All experiences of working in the City, from spring weeks to internships, are very useful for one reason above all: because they make you much more informed when it comes to career choices. Like me, you might also have an interest in finance and an interest in charity work - an internship will make you that much surer as to which one is the hobby and which one is career path you really want to pursue.

So keep sending off those applications to banks, management consultants, law firms, and the like. And keep on doing your positive charity work at the same time. You're not a 'sell out'. You're just keeping your options, and your mind, open. There's nothing 'crazy' about that, is there?

Alex Iltchev studies French and Spanish at Oxford University. He is currently working for JP Morgan in Paris on his year abroad.


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