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Career lessons from Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s new co-head of investment banking

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is the latest firm to shake up the top ranks of its investment bank. Diego De Giorgi and Karim Assef have been promoted to co-heads of investment banking at a time of expansion for the bank.

The two men have contrasting career paths – Assef is a BAML ‘lifer’ and has been with the bank for almost 20 years. De Giorgi has spent the bulk of his career at Goldman Sachs and only moved across to BAML in 2013 as co-head of corporate and investment banking for EMEA.

De Giorgi is based in London. The effusive Italian gave some sage career advice to wannabe investment bankers at a conference attended by eFinancialCareers in November last year. These are his tips.

1. Investment banking is a numbers game – develop a thick skin

“What I lack in brains, I make up in energy,” said de Giorgi. “You need to be energetic, enthusiastic, persistent and dogged. Most pitches won’t be successful and you could have spent hours working on a presentation, but so will have the competition. We don’t sell a physical product, we sell what we can do for clients and you need to show intellect, but also doggedness.”

2. Investment banking is all about people. Know your worth

Investment banks face competition on all fronts for the top graduate talent. De Giorgi said that when he started out in investment banking 25 years’ ago, top students in Europe with quantitative degrees were “split 50-50 between banking and consulting”. Competition for places is still intense in investment banking, but students are heading to tech start-ups and other industries. Once a student is hired, banks still have to stave off competition from private equity firms and hedge funds for their talent.

“We are a professional service and 99% of our assets are in our people; we need to do everything we can to attract them and stop the brain haemorrhage of talent,” he said. “Investing in the next generation is the most important thing we can do, and it’s the biggest challenge.”

3.Don’t let the job define who you are

Investment banking is notorious for long hours, but you need to maintain interests outside of the job. These ‘interests’ will make you more interesting to clients.

“Like most high-pressured jobs, investment banking has the potential to suck the life out of you if you let it,” he said. “It’s possible to let the job define you, but you must maintain a life outside of work. This is good for client relationships – if all you have to talk about with clients is the next deal, they are never going to be a great client.”

4. Know what drives you

Why are you going into investment banking? What gets you up in the morning (or keeps you awake well into the night)? If it’s only the money, you won’t last long – something else has to make you tick.

“More than most other industries you get access to senior figures early in your career. There aren’t many other jobs where you have opportunities to meet CEOs in your 20s in the stereotypical ‘smoke-filled’ room of negotiations. This is access got me going when I was 21 and still does now,” said de Giorgi.

 

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