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The China Column: Investment bankers in China are just as stressed as those in the West

“When there’s a big deal going on, it’s absolutely normal to work until 2am or even later. I started to hate this kind of lifestyle. I don’t get to see my parents that much. I don’t get to hang out with my friends because I cancel appointments all the time. I feel like I have no personal life and [I’m] being isolated,” says Huang Lei, an M&A analyst at a large international investment bank in Shanghai.

Welcome to the investment banking club. The reality is that at foreign firms in China – both big banks and boutiques – analysts are routinely expected to work at least 90 to 100 hours per week. During a particularly busy season when there are a lot of deals coming in, it’s not uncommon for them to pull several all-nighters in a row.

Most junior bankers will tell you that the worst part of their job is not these super long hours, but the unpredictable schedule. All those last-minute calls make them lose control of their own lives, which means it’s extremely difficult for them to spend quality time with their families and friends. Sadly, this is simply the culture of investment banking. Bankers are paid a lot of money and therefore expected to work long hours.

“In foreign banks and Big Four accounting firms, overtime is normal. It’s just like the relationship between risk and return. Since I chose investment banking, I justify all the stress that I suffer from with the fat bonus I receive at the end of the year. It’s only fair if things work out like this,” says Timothy Lin, an associate at a large investment bank in Beijing.

Bankers are also on the road a lot, which could be another stress trigger. Senior bankers travel the most, perhaps being out of their office 60 per cent of the time, but juniors usually have significant travel opportunities when they are working on live deals such as M&As or IPOs.

While the compensation is excellent, make no mistake, too much stress can kill. Every now and then we hear stories of overstressed investment bankers throwing themselves off bridges or office buildings. Although achieving work life balance while employed as an investment banker is nearly impossible, it is possible to only work long hours early in your career. In other words, you “pay your dues” now for a relatively easier time later in life.

Many individuals get into investment banking with exactly this plan in mind. Buy while it works for some, others grow accustomed to the turbocharged lifestyle and accompanying increased expenses, and find their “golden handcuffs” will not allow them to leave such a lucrative industry.

For those who have the talent and ambition (and perhaps a well thought-out exit plan), a career in investment banking offers significant rewards…if you can handle the stress.

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