Once upon a time, investment banking used to be a magnet for intelligent and underprivileged people who saw an opportunity to make some real money. Now it’s just a cul de sac for tedious people called Tobias and Laeticia who want a second home in the country.
So says an ex-Goldman Sachs trader who left investment banking at 28 and has been trading his own money ever since.
“Until 2008, banking attracted highly ambitious intelligent and hungry people who wanted to get paid for their input,” says Anton Kreil, founder of the Institute of Trading and Portfolio Management. “Obviously some bad people did some bad things, but they were in the minority – at that time, a lot of people in the city were just pretty honest people who wanted to get paid for what they brought into the company in terms of profit.
“Now, banking is in structural decline,” says Kreil. “Fees in primary markets – on M&A deals and capital raising – have been cut massively in the past decade and commissions have been reduced significantly on secondary trading. It’s a function of both competition and of the corrosive effects of algorithmic trading and direct market access.”
As the investment banking industry has fallen prey to secular deterioration, Kreil says the most intelligent people have left. “The people who were attracted to banking between 1990 and 2007 are just too smart, too ambitious and too entrepreneurial to stay in banking now. They realize the opportunities have disappeared.”
What you have left is the deadweight, says Kreil – the middle class duffers who’ve read in newspapers that you can make money in the City and flocked to banking as a nice safe profession. “They’re all happy enough as long as they can have their business cards with ‘VP’ written on them and earn £100k a year. It’s become vanity over sanity,” he said. “If you’re smart, the opportunity cost of working in banking has just become too large.”
What should you do instead? If you don’t want to work in a “safe, middle class environment,” Kreil advocates working for a hedge fund. – “The environment in the hedge funds industry is tougher but better, like it used to be at investment banks when banking was a rewarding industry to work in.”