By Olivia Oran
(Reuters) - Banks are grappling with how to recruit young people into businesses like trade finance and cash management, which are increasingly important drivers of revenue but perceived to be un-sexy compared with investment banking and trading.
At Citigroup Inc <C.N>, the treasury and trade solutions group is seen as a jewel, with stable revenue and high return on equity. The business, which helps manage the way large companies make payments, generated double the revenue that investment banking did in 2016.
Citi Chief Executive Mike Corbat at a July investor day called the business the “backbone” of Citi’s institutional business, noting it had grown year over year for three years despite lower rates and slower economic activity.
Yet attracting new hires to the unit is not easy because students do not know what exactly the business does, said Bill Fisse, who runs Citi’s global campus recruiting.
“Everyone knows what investment banking is because there is a traditional path and a skill set, but very few people know about this,” he said. “But the truth is our ability to move cash and finance trade is as important as an advisory situation which may happen once or twice a year. So, should the business appeal to more people? Yes.”
The bank last year launched a partnership with Rutgers University in New Jersey that aims to teach students about the ins and outs of cash management through a case study, a field trip to Citi’s downtown New York offices and mentorships with bank employees.
“It’s not the sexy area of banking, but students walked away from the class saying ‘I didn’t know it would be so interesting,'” said Ron Richter, a Rutgers professor who teaches a class on working capital management. He helped establish the Citi tie-up alongside Michael Fossaceca, Citi’s head of treasury and trade solutions in North America.
Citi is not the only bank taking this tack. JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> is also working with professors to develop classes around certain business lines, but a spokeswoman did not give specifics.
The need for talent in treasury services is growing. In 2016, banks globally generated $209 billion in revenue from transaction banking, which encompasses both cash management and trade finance, compared with the $172 billion brought in by their trading units, according to industry tracker Coalition.
Halim Amezquita, a junior at Rutgers, said she is considering a career in treasury after taking Richter's class although working in wealth management is her ultimate goal.
"I didn't know much about treasury before but now I've been introduced to a side of finance I hadn't considered," she said. "It just wasn't mentioned before in any course I had taken."
Citi executives say they are in talks with other universities for similar partnerships, did not give specifics.
Jim Kaitz, the president of the Association for Financial Professionals, which represents the treasury and finance industry, said his organization is also holding discussions with universities at the undergraduate and MBA-level about teaching students the skills they need for a career in trade finance.
"There's definitely a skills gap issue when students come out of traditional finance programs and they aren't prepared for treasury jobs," Kaitz said. "But everyone can't go to Wall Street or Silicon Valley - they need to look at alternatives."
(Reporting by Olivia Oran in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)