If you're lucky enough to land a junior job in an investment bank, you might assume you're on track for an illustrious future of large pay packets. This might be the case, but you'll need to make it through the analyst and associate years first. Not everyone does - some people burn out. Others leave simply because they can't take the boredom.
We spoke to a selection of banking juniors (all off the record) about what they consider to be the worst jobs in the industry. This is what they said.
As we've reported many times, sales jobs in investment banks are in a period of transition - veteran salespeople are leaving and banks like Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs are refocusing their salespeople on their highest value clients whilst automating the way in which they service the rest.
If you join a sales team in an investment bank in this climate, you may find your colleagues understandably defensive. "Junior sales is hard to break out of," says one London-based trader. "You need sponsorship. Management needs to be willing to trust you with big accounts."
If you don't achieve this sponsorship, your sales career will stall before it's even begun.
All investment banking division (IBD) jobs are notoriously hard. If you're going to work 90 hour weeks, this is where you'll do it. U.S. academic Alexandra Michel produced a now-notorious study looking at how careers in IBD damage your health - leading to everything from alopecia (hair loss), to a full physical and mental breakdown. Banks have since worked to cut juniors' working hours, although anecdotally this has made little difference.
"All you're gonna do for your first few years in an investment banking role is PowerPoints 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week," says another trader, arguing that all roles in IBD are to be avoided for this reason.
Within IBD, one industry group is said to be worse than others though - the Financial Institutions Group (FIG). "“If you get stuck in a FIG team when you leave university and you don’t like it, you’ll find it very difficult to move into anything else,” one recruiter told us last year. Worse, you can end up working long hours all the time.
"FIG is less cyclical than some other sectors, like healthcare," says one FIG associate. "The work we do is more driven by regulation than anything else. This has its advantages - it makes FIG more of a stable career as you're not going to get a bust, but it does mean that we're always busy."
Nor are junior trading jobs the Holy Grail most people expect them to be. "Junior traders do true grunt work," says one senior salesman. "If you aspire to help the senior traders by getting their food and delivering their laundry, this is the place for you."
A senior trader says it's not that bad, but cautions that the nature of trading jobs has changed as a result of regulation. "Increasingly these days the junior on the desk spends time on the pre-trade approval process. This means dealing with regulatory issues and due process. There's less time spent watching the market, analyzing how the market moves and understanding how senior traders are positioned."
Bankers who've been there and done it also cast aspersions on the infrastructure roles banks are so keen to promote. One IBD banker said he started his career in operational risk and that it was tediously boring: "Trying to understand complicated trade capturing systems isn't exactly what I'd envisaged when I applied for banking jobs."
Another trader who began his career in trade support said he felt like "a cog in a large machine", although he got to work shorter hours than the traders. Moving out of trade support and into an actual trading job is far harder than it used to be - banks are wary of promoting support staff into trading roles ever since support professionals like Kweku Adoboli and Jerome Kerviel used their knowledge of banks' systems to disguise rogue trades. Once you've started a career in a trade support role, you're likely to be pigeon-holed as a result.
Specific jobs in banks' compliance teams can also be a headache if you're a junior. Senior compliance staff caution against anything related to trade surveillance, personal account dealing, and management information.
"If you work in trade surveillance, you'll spend your entire time looking at exception reports," says one senior compliance professional. "You'll investigate it, review it and check the box. You'll rarely find anything of any substance.." Another compliance consultant says the role of the trade surveillance professional is, "literally looking at thousands of false alerts."
Personal account dealing might be a bit more interesting, but it can be emotionally draining. If you work in so-called "PA dealing," you'll have to approach senior bankers and traders about the legitimacy of trades they make on their personal accounts - and they can be pretty abrasive. "All you'll be doing is clearing personal trades for bankers and traders all day," says one senior compliance professional. "The highlight will be at the end of the month, when you review everything that's happened. It's absolutely mind-numbing and pretty depressing when you see how much these guys have in their brokerage accounts - and yet they still complain about money."
Compliance professionals also warn against "management information jobs". These are jobs in which, "you spend hours putting together compliance reports for management so that they know what's going on." The effort that goes into this is, "nuts", and your report may be little-read.
Ok, transaction services jobs are found in Big Four accounting firms rather than investment banks, but they merit a mention as jobs juniors might want to avoid.
"Transaction services is all about the due diligence that goes into an M&A deal," says one ex-transaction services junior. "You only come in for part of the deal and you don't get the satisfaction of seeing the whole process."
While junior M&A bankers spend their time working in air-conditioned offices dreaming of meeting clients, transaction services professionals spend their time working in clients' offices dreaming of their own desks. "When I worked in transaction services I traveled for literally two years solid," says the junior. "You get to the stage where you're tired of bringing your dirty shirts to another new town and you just want to sleep in your own bed."
On the plus side, transaction services can lead to a career in M&A - providing you can hack the long hours (see point 2).