There's a clear path into an investment banking graduate job now. Study at a top university, secure a position on a Spring insight week, convert that into a summer analyst program and then merely impress enough senior bankers to secure a full-time role. Simple, right? Except that only a tiny proportion of applicants ever make it on to an internship, and investment banks are being increasingly selective about which interns they offer a job to.
Now, though, two former investment bankers and current Columbia Business School MBAs are offering a chance to get in through the back door.
“A lot of people are interested in finance, but they don’t know what it is – they don’t have access to good information,” says Jason Fan, a former Jefferies and Morgan Stanley analyst who left banking last year to start a two-year MBA program at Columbia. “Maybe they’ve read books or articles, but it’s hard to know what you’re getting yourself into and what it’s really like."
“You know it’s going to be a fast-paced environment, but you can’t know how it feels, that type of stress, the fire drills that need to be put out in an hour, grinding things out until midnight, but until it actually happens…once you experience it, it gets real,” he says.
Fan and fellow MBA Soonkang Soh launched BrainCeek, in-person investment banking simulations to let university students get a feel for banking, prepare them for an internship and ultimately a full-time analyst position. Winners are recommended to banks for an internship – Barclays's startup incubator Rise New York has partnered with the scheme so far and Fan says other investment banks are likely to come on board soon.
The idea of getting a 'taster' for investment banking and then a potential advantage over other intern applicants is growing in popularity. UBS has its investment banking challenge where students present a case study to senior bankers with a chance to get a guaranteed interview for its internship. Goldman Sachs offers a spring internship and £9,000 in scholarship fees to the winner of its student challenge. George-Mihail Mandres, who won in 2015, has just started on the bank's trading floor.
UK Investment Banking Series (UIBS), where students create a pitchbook judged by senior bankers and run by the finance societies of universities like the London School of Economics, University College London, Imperial College London, Kings College London and Oxford University, offers an internship at a top bank to the winner.
While approximately one-third of BrainCeek participants have been from Columbia, plus a few other Ivy League universities such as Cornell, the rest are from non-target schools that are not typically on banks’ radar. Currently, most BrainCeek participants come from New York-area universities such as Rutgers and various City University of New York (CUNY) branches, including Baruch College. In addition, there are pre-MBA fellows that the Toigo Foundation sponsors who fly from all across the country to New York to participate in the program.
The program includes many students studying engineering or liberal arts, and there are event Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) students who have participated. Most are undergraduate sophomores and rising juniors, with some first-year Master’s students, who are looking for a summer internship and eventually a full-time job at a major bank.
Philip Walsh is a rising junior in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management (AEM), a department within the Johnson College of Business at Cornell, where he’s a member of the Alpha Fund and the finance club. He participated in a BrainCeek workshop earlier this year and is currently an investment banking summer analyst at BCMS North America in New York.
“One of the most impactful parts of the workshop for me was the opportunity to see what makes a good presentation, what makes a good PowerPoint deck or company evaluation, and Jason let us know what the life of an analyst is like, because he would critique or nitpick as a manager at an investment bank might do,” he says. “We were looking around wide-eyed, realizing wow, every little detail matters.
“If you’re trying to get into investment banking, then the devil is in the details, so the experiential learning was very helpful, because it brought to life what we keep hearing as we prepare for interviews, and while I was familiar with some of it on a topical level, I picked up some skills that I wouldn’t have been able to until doing an internship.”
You hear about the type of stress you’ll experience and the long hours you’ll have to work as an investment banker, but it’s hard to know whether or not it’s a fit for you until you’ve actually done it, Fan says.
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