Banks aren’t sexy anymore. The big bonuses are gone. The culture is boring. The industry is shrinking. Fintech is eating Wall Street’s lunch. Work life balance still sucks. The wild antics have died down. The colourful characters have moved to the buy-side. Wall Street’s just not cool. College kids don’t want to work there anymore.
There’s no need for me to unpack any of that; it’s what we’ve been hearing since the financial crisis. But since I wrote a book about pervasive deviance and systemic corruption on Wall Street, I get asked all the time, “Is Wall Street still a good place to start?”
So here are 10 reasons why Wall Street is a phenomenal place to begin your career, and not just because of the occasional debauchery:
Wall Street has one of the most prestigious training programmes on the planet. Where else could you show up with an Oxford PPE degree and learn the fundamentals of valuation, finance, economics, accounting, modelling, computer and presentation skills in the span of six weeks? Some hedge funds are stepping up, but very few companies generally devote the resources to training that the big banks do.
Most junior bankers get two mentors. One is only a few years older (usually an associate), can relate to your day-to-day life, and is there to provide typical mentor-y guidance. The other is more senior – probably a managing director making $2-3m or more a year. They’re smart, accomplished, at the top of their game, and are at your disposal to help not only with your career, but also in life. Where else do you get that kind of access?
Fresh out of training, I’m sitting in front of four screens, a Bloomberg terminal, a dealerboard with 100 phone lines and instant access (via the hoot) to all major financial centres across the world, and am surrounded by near-infinite resources. If I had a legal or documentation issue, a research or markets question, or an IT problem, everything was a button away. But if you think it’s cooler to have a free iMac and a Ping-Pong table in the conference room, maybe Silicon Valley might be better for you.
Every banker I know who has left the industry for a career outside of banking is thankful for having cut his or her teeth on Wall Street. You’re surrounded by the so-called “best and brightest” in a fiercely competitive, stressful, gruelling, and singularly focused ($) environment. Learning how to excel as a junior banker on Wall Street is an invaluable life skill.
People – tech startups, the buy side, big corporations, business and law schools, friends and family, even possible romantic partners - know how hard it is to get a top banking job. They know how rigorous the training programmes are. They know you work well under pressure, have a solid work ethic, and an appreciation for intelligence and efficiency. Having Wall Street on your CV is a timeless stamp of approval.
The job can be all-consuming. Your peers, colleagues, and many of your competitors will become some of your closest friends. Besides, most of your old friends from university can’t afford to keep up with you. Over time, these people (your new friends) will become more successful and influential and gradually disperse all over the world and across all facets of our economy and society.
First of all, you’re starting out in city like New York or London, not Detroit or Manchester. Second, you have unmatched opportunities for short and long-term mobility. There aren’t that many other careers or skillsets where you can do a stint in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Sydney.
Many college kids aren’t sure what they want to do for a career, or even if they are, they probably don’t fully comprehend what they’re getting into. Quite often, they end up hating their first job, but can’t do much about it. Whereas, when I started, I was getting exposure to a wide range of industries and clients, doing deals for General Electric, Unilever, Rolls-Royce, AIG, or even Chinese tycoons and Indonesian thugs. Not only did I get great exposure, it was quite often at the CEO and CFO level. Even if I had hated banking, that kind of exposure gave me the knowledge and opportunity to do something about it.
You’re working on deals that appear in the Wall Street Journal the next day.
Wall Street pay structures have been overhauled and continue to trend lower. Boohoo. You’re still probably on track to retire before you turn 40, depending on what your “number” is.
So let’s assume you heed my advice and pursue a career on Wall Street. Where does that leave you in two or three years? If you love your job (for many of the reasons above), there’s nothing left to say. You’re welcome.
If you hate it, then you’re still well positioned and connected, and better informed and qualified to go into anything you want: tech, the buy-side, a corporate gig, your own startup, or back to school. And even if you just want to sail around the world, you can probably afford it.
John LeFevre is the creator of @GSElevator on Twitter, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Straight To Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, And Billion-Dollar Deals