If you work in banking or other sectors in financial services, you likely spend a healthy part of your day dealing with career-related stress. The hours, the responsibilities, the external pressures to deliver consistent compelling results – they all add up. But who has it worse?
We decided to conduct an informal survey to find out, creating a list of a dozen sectors and roles. We then asked a host of recruiters and other experts in the field to rank them based on the stress levels employees tend to face, leaving it up to each voter to qualify “work stress” as they see it. Below are the composite results, along with some notes from those who chose to go on the record and explain their thought process. Do you agree?
1. Investment Banker: The runaway choice for the most stressful job on Wall Street and in all of financial services, finishing in the top three of every ballot. The main reason is that investment bankers are confronted with the two main triggers for career stress: the difficulty of the work coupled with the sheer amount of it, particularly for associates and analysts.
“The life of a junior banker is one of the last forms of legalized slavery,” said Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “It is a gruelling survival of the fittest existence defined by all-nighters, no time to eat well or to exercise, and compensation that has remained flat for a number of years.”
Within investment banking, the highest levels of stress exist in M&A, said Richard Lipstein, managing director at Wall Street search firm Gilbert Tweed International. “The most stressful job is one where revenue takes longest to be generated,” he said. “In M&A, you need to know the people, get the meeting, bring in the business, convince them to sell and then go out and get it done.”
2. Trader: Most traders don’t hold the hours of investment bankers, but they may have a sharper, more acute level of stress. “Trader stress is in real time and can happen instantaneously,” said Sal Khan, managing director at Dynamics Associates.
Obviously the lives of some traders are easier than others. Sell-side traders live and die daily, said Cohen. Eyeing the current moment, fixed income traders are likely more stressed than ever, simply due to the conditions, Lipstein said. “Their business is shrinking – there will be triage, and they know it.”
3. Risk management & compliance: Likely positions that wouldn’t finish this high years ago, risk and compliance personnel don’t get paid as highly as traders and investment bankers but they’re in a pressure cooker just the same. One reason risk and compliance didn’t finish higher is the dearth of qualified professionals able to fill all the openings (i.e. job security).
“New regulatory requirements are constantly rolling in and regulators and those on the business side are always on you, breathing down your neck,” said Lisa Mogilner, executive recruiter at Dynamics Associates. Sitting in a non-revenue generating seats, risk and compliance staffers are often viewed as the enemy by colleagues who are desperate to get a transaction approved, said Cohen. But they also have skeletons like the London Whale, Libor and the credit crisis feeding their stress levels on the other side. Market risk and credit risk management roles are particularly stressful, said Khan.
4. Wealth manager/financial advisor: Finishing near the top on some surveys and further down on others, wealth managers and financial advisors deal with one particular vehicle for stress: they eat only what they kill. Wealth managers get fired nearly as often as they get hired. One WM who started five years ago said he is the only remaining member of his 30-person recruiting class still in the business.
It’s a sales job, and your target is often friends and family. You start with a barely livable wage and you need to sell to remain employed. But, at its core, wealth management is a relationship business. Unlike institutional sales, your heart – not just your wallet – is on the line with each investment, said Lipstein.
5. Institutional sales: Any role that focuses on sales causes stress. Couple this with the fact that the job security and the ceiling on salary aren’t what they used to be, and institutional sales can be a grind. “As technology automates much of the function, there is simply no need for a human interface,” said Cohen. “Since the products are now not much more than commodities, sales people are seeing shrinking spreads and fewer opportunities to generate rich commissions.”
6. Management consulting: It’s all about hours, engagement and travel. Simply put, consultants always have to be “on.” And in between they are in airports and juggling complex business problems.
“And the more senior you are, there are pressures to generate new business while continuing to execute,” said Anne Crowley, managing director at Jay Gaines and Company. “Some people are wired for this, and are motivated by the fast pace and variety of challenge.”
7. Private equity: You must be smart, hard-working and well-rounded, but the lifestyle doesn’t compare to investment bankers and the pay if often much better, particularly at the senior level.
8. Industrial coverage/research analyst: Very rich, very passionate and very explosive fund managers and traders rely on research analysts, who will often get more blame than praise, particularly on the buy side. “You agonize over every decision, then you agonize once the decision is made,” Lipstein said.
9. Fund manager: Finishing just behind research analyst, fund managers push the final button – a highly stressful role – but they have seniority, don’t have to do as much grunt work and likely have the bank account to relax, just a bit.
10. Technology: Like risk and compliance, tech pros get yelled at – a lot. “They take plenty of blame, even when things are out of their hands, and they constantly have to re-educate themselves and take courses,” said Mogilner. And, with operational budget constraints, there is a “continuing pressure to do more with less,” said Crowley.
11. Accounting: Finishing last on every ballot, accounting is “virtually stress-free as long as you like routine and are willing to work long hours on a seasonal basis,” said Cohen. There’s also minimal client-facing and you’re never on an island. “There is always someone in the assembly line with you,” according to Mogilner. Not much else to say.