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How to be humble when you’re 25 years old and earning $150k

Young bankers deny that arrogance is pervasive in the industry

Young bankers deny that arrogance is pervasive in the industry

Like it or not, young bankers have an image problem. The 2006-stereotype of models and bottles and arrogant young men waving money out of windows might seem unfair when you’re working 18 hour days and staring at a screen. But as with all clichés, it’s not entirely divorced from reality.

“Humility is rare in banks,” says Nyla Nox, an author who spent years on the ‘graveyard’ shift of a major American bank, formatting pitch books for junior M&A bankers.  “It’s weeded out in the leadership selection process. I’m not sure it would be recognized if it appeared.”

Although she’s got a degree in a humanities subject, Nox says she was treated with disdain by the analysts and associates she worked with: “They were astonished that a girl like me has a degree and could talk like a human. The assumption was that we were morons.”

The current and ex-junior bankers we spoke to questioned this portrayal of a conceited elite of 20-somethings who treat anyone outside their clique with opprobrium. “It all depends upon the firm you work for,” said one ex-Morgan Stanley sales VP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At Morgan Stanley it was all very, very low key and WASPY, not brash at all.”

Things are said to be equally low-key at Goldman Sachs. “This stereotype of the arrogant young banker is completely wrong,” says one Goldman trader Share on twitter, also speaking off the record. “Most people in banking are very academic, very, very hard working, professional and focused on the job.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about your reputation in the firm and how much responsibility you have,” he adds.

Anecdotally, obnoxiousness is far more prevalent in the interdealer broking industry than in large investment banks. Brokers have been at the centre of recent scandals, and are notorious for their raucous behaviour.

Banking recruiters say young investment bankers aren’t necessarily a million miles behind though. “Some of them are nice, but a lot of them aren’t,” says the UK-based head of one international search firm (also speaking off the record for fear of upsetting clients). “The problem is that a lot of people who go into banking today come from very privileged backgrounds and are very arrogant,” he adds. “The only good news is that they tend to mellow as they age.”

How much are 25 year-olds earning in front office jobs in investment banks? Data from salary benchmarking company Emolument, suggests £87k is reasonable. Figures from Dartmouth Partners, a London-based headhunting firm, indicate that third year analysts (with a minimum age of 24) working in investment banking can expect £100k ($153k) in total compensation. “That’s a lot of money when you’re that young,” notes one recruitment director.

The average salary in the UK is £26.5k, so how can you ensure you don’t become divorced from reality when you’re earning nearly four times that amount a few years after leaving university? Nox has some unvarnished advice: “Remember that a nurse earns £23k per year. She may save your life one day. You will never save hers,” she says. “Remember it’s a team effort. You depend on your co-workers. Except when you push them out. Remember you’re not really worth all that money. It’s a lottery. You know I’m right. Remember you will be fired one day. Without warning.”

The director of one London-based firm which recruits junior bankers puts it another way. “The people who are paid the most in banking are the hardest working,” she says. “They earn most because they’re the highest rated, because they’re diligent and they have a decent attitude. They’re paid for being smart. Not for having a big ego.”

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