There are different reasons why individuals become investment bankers. Chance plays a role, but deep-seated motivations are usually the determining factor.
These motivations explain why so many bankers agree to work unusually long hours, put up with abnormally high levels of stress and sacrifice personal and leisure time. Take a look at the faces of people who have been in the business for over 10 years, especially in a front office role. Some wear their sacrifice on their faces. Most are probably 10 years younger than they look.
So why do some accept, amongst other things, the stress-induced premature ageing that comes with the territory?
In the case of university students, the urge to work in finance usually stems from being mesmerized by the words and tone of voice of recent grads in polished suits at campus recruitment events. Never mind that the speaker has had cramps for the past month, working round the clock to make a deal happen
If you consider it safe to be employed and risky to be an entrepreneur, then investment banking can be considered one of the best safe bets in terms of compensation.
From fine Asian restaurants serving mouth-watering black cod with miso and expensive French wine to luxury hotels nestled on hilltops in remote exotic islands, the list of activities enjoyed by bankers is out of reach to people in lower-paying industries.
Many bankers love knowing that their friends refer to them as a high flying finance guy/ girl. I’ve known some who’ll complain about the job on daily basis and carry their utter disdain for their work life on their foreheads. But when you run into them at a rooftop lounge on a Friday evening surrounded by an attractive young crowd of non-finance people you’ll hear them describe what they do as if they’re Thomas Crown or James Bond.
Some people know they want to work in finance from a young age. True, it’s rare but when you meet them in a bank you’ll recognize it. More often than not they’re very sharp. Everyone in the team will either love or hate them. There is no in between. At a junior level (i.e. analyst / associate) they are typically the guys who make far fewer mistakes in presentations and models, digest information and data the quickest and generally appear to feel most at home.
For some, a career in finance is expected from a young age. That was certainly the case with Guillaume, a Swiss M&A analyst I met inLondonduring training.
Guillaume: “Most of our family friends are in finance. My father is a private banker. My older brother is a hedge fund analyst. The pay maintains the lifestyle we like. The lifestyle our friends also have, bien sur.”
He tells me this as he brandishes a ring with his family crest on it, oblivious to the fact that there are 30-year old dotcom-ers who have made more in 5 years than his ancestry combined.
The people in this group are those who’ve planned the mission from day 1 and see investment banking as a necessary tour of duty. They’ve given themselves two or three years to learn as much as possible about finance, hone their presentation and Excel skills, add some eyebrow-raising bullet points in the CV and get out before it’s too late.
Once the tour of duty comes to an end they tend to head back to university for graduate studies, launch a start-up, spend a year backpacking around Latin America flirting with locals, set about writing an ebook they’ll make available for download on a personal blog for $39.99, move into an Ashram in Uttar Pradesh and massage each other thinking it will lead to enlightenment and practice minimalism, etc.
Sadly, only some of these people fulfill their mission. Everybody reading knows what I’m talking about. To those in the business: how many times have you told yourself, ‘just one more year…just one more bonus’? To those who have friends in the business: how many times have you heard them insist they’ll soon leave their job? Most end up MIA (missing in action). Once behind enemy lines and captured people slowly forget the original plan, easily overshadowed by the perks of the job. That is precisely what happened to Carlos, a friend of a friend.
He was on a two year plan. So he said. Six years later – though you’d think it more like 15 years looking at his face and what’s left of his hair – he still insists departure is imminent.
One attraction of working in an investment bank is that you’re sure to work alongside some bright minds. The reason for that is very simple –> investment banking promises enormous wealth and an exciting career –> therefore, it attracts some of the sharpest, most intelligent and driven individuals in academia and the workplace.
I can’t deny that I’ve met some impressive people in banking. However, I’ve also met a great deal of legendary imbeciles.
About the author: The ibanker is a former bulge bracket investment banker who founded a family office-backed investment firm which provides specialised services to sovereign wealth funds and family offices across the globe.
The ibanker has co-founded several Internet startups and undergoes regular actor training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for fun. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, here.