When you go into a junior investment banking job, you give up on your personal life. Partners fall away, friends become distant and your apartment becomes a place to lay your head for a few hours every night. But what if you were married with a young child when you started out?
For Richard Atkins (a pseudonym), the choice of going into investment banking after graduating with an MBA from Chicago Booth Business School was a pretty simple one. For all the talk of MBAs falling out of love with banking, if you go to the right school, investment banking is still the main choice, he says.
“Consultants wanted to be bankers, bankers wanted to be consultants,” he says. “I’d say around 100 people ended up in banking from my class, and the vast majority had interned the previous year.”
But unlike the vast majority of new associates, Atkins has a wife and a young son. 80-plus hour weeks are expected from juniors working in IBD, but most of his contemporaries were young, free and single. After a few months in the role, Atkins quit his banking job in New York, but has stuck with finance by going into an audit job in Europe.
“The breaking point was when a family member got ill and I struggled to take time out to see them. My employer was understanding, but if you’re out of the office for any period of time it puts strain on the other juniors,” he says.
“I knew there would always be something that would keep me out of the office, and it’s difficult when everyone else is there the whole time. If my son got sick, I couldn’t take him to the doctors, or just simply not being able to help at home. So, I decided to quit,” he says.
Most MBAs going into investment banking are aware of the nature of the work, largely because the majority have interned previously, says Atkins. If you go to the right business school, investment banks are still rolling out the red carpet for top MBAs, offering various social events and putting forward senior bankers to sell the benefits of a banking career.
“It’s pretty cool, senior bankers tell you that you’re the cream of the crop, and that the future is in your hands,” he says. “You get to meet a lot of managing directors who tell you why they got into banking and why they still love it.”
But, of course, the working hours are brutal and banks' efforts to reduce them are unlikely to change this. UBS, for example, has a 'take two' scheme that allows analysts to have two hours of personal time if they can find someone to cover for them. Or Barclays' policy of protecting weekends for juniors 'as much as possible'. You're still not going to have a lot of free time.
“MDs can drop work on your desk at any moment. There might not be deals on all the time, but the pitch process is constant, and you never know when a client might demand something,” says Atkins. “It’s difficult to get away from this – the only way to stop it is to hire a lot more people.”
Atkins still thinks that investment banking is a great career, but the pace of working in audit is more conducive to a life outside of work.
“It’s a change. You have meetings ahead of other meetings and the pace of getting things done is so much slower than investment banking. But I get to see my family,” he says.
So, why not quit finance entirely for the red hot tech sector?
“In tech things are so unstructured and the career path relatively erratic that it’s actually difficult for MBAs unless you’ve started the company yourself. Finance offers a much more linear route,” he says.
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