Everyone who enters the world of investment banking goes in with their eyes wide open, but watching entire teams trudge off to the pub at 9.30 in the morning after a brief meeting with HR was still brutal. Junior bankers, who until that point had been convinced that they really were the ‘future’ of the firm, were included in the redundancies. By the end of the day, I was one of just a handful left.
You might have gone through an arduous process to get here, but every junior banker knows that they’re replaceable. The key to survival is to be the hardest to replace. This boils down to three things – merit, image and positioning.
This is the most obvious point – so let’s get it out of the way. You need to be good at your job. Period. If you’re not, you’re gone – and gone quickly. That means constant availability and maintaining standards even at 5am. You need to be able to run a valuation and deliver your books on time without having your hand held. And that’s just the baseline. If you’re an analyst or associate who can’t do these things, the axe will hit you first.
Then comes the real differentiation. Maybe you’re the most technical member of the team. Maybe you’re a real superstar and you’ve set up new relationships for your MD or helped originate a deal. You’re never going to take full credit for that - remember banks aren’t pure meritocracies, you need to be good, but you also need to play the game.
Investment banking is all about image. There’s a key difference between how you are and how you look.
If you’re working in the front office the chances are that your peers are going to be smart. Super smart. And yes, that means maybe even smarter than you (have I bruised your ego?) So, if there’s someone smarter, you need to make sure it isn’t obvious. You can do this by being the guy who constantly tries to one-up everyone around them, but in my experience that just results in people not trusting you - and that won’t help your image.
A better approach is to contribute – not just execute. Think of yourself as your senior’s Chief of Staff as much as his junior. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions by thinking critically about how you can add value. Very quickly you’ll find that you’re seen as not only completely reliable, but valuable - at which point the guy sitting next to you who can build a DCF faster suddenly becomes less of a problem.
This is last on my list, but is really the most important point. Remember, everything comes down to being the hardest person to replace.
If you’ve aligned yourself with the top MD in your team, you might just find yourself running that valuation for the biggest deal the team has going. You might be the point person for the client, which means taking your name off the payroll becomes a much harder proposition.
All of this means your MD needs to like you, and he needs to trust you. You have to build and maintain a relationship, which is easier said than done. Be available, including weekends, don’t complain about it being your mate’s birthday (or your sister’s wedding), and on the rare occasion someone influential invites you to go for drinks, that is not the time to go on a detox.
Don’t expect to be thanked when you work in banking. No one cares if you’re fired – over and above the inconvenience it might cause for the business. To survive in banking, you need to play the game – and to do that you need to understand the rules. If so, you might just survive. Like me.
Arun Jones is a pseudonym