If you work in an investment banking division (IBD), or pretty much any other sector of financial services, you are likely spend a healthy part of your day dealing with career-related stress. The working hours, the responsibilities, the external pressures to deliver consistent compelling results – they all add up. But who has it worse?
We decided to conduct an informal survey to find out. We then asked a host of recruiters and actual employees in each field to rank them based on the stress levels employees tend to face, leaving it up to each voter to qualify “work stress” as they see it. Below are the composite results, along with some notes from those who chose to go on the record and explain their thought processes. Do you agree?
1. Most stressful job in finance: Investment Banker (M&A or capital markets professional)
Jobs in the investment banking division (IBD) were the runaway choice for the most stressful job on Wall Street and in all of financial services, finishing in the top three of every ballot. The main reason is that investment bankers are confronted with the two main triggers for career stress: the difficulty of the work coupled with the sheer amount of it, particularly for analysts and associates and despite banks’ attempts to mitigate the strain.
“The life of a junior banker is one of the last forms of legalized slavery,” said Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “It is a grueling survival of the fittest existence defined by all-nighters, no time to eat well or to exercise, and compensation that has remained flat for a number of years.”
The Epicurean Dealmaker, the anonymous M&A banker behind the eponymous blog and Twitter account says M&A careers remain stressful throughout, but that the nature of the stress changes. “Juniors are crushed by work out of their control. Seniors are whipsawed by clients’ unreasonable demands,” he says. “Juniors have no responsibility for revenues, though, whereas MDs [managing directors] do. That is huge, constant pressure. MDs have (lots) more money and somewhat more life control, but much high burnout rate and obligations. Juniors rarely fired; MDs are fired all the time.”
And if you decide not to become an MD to escape this pressure? “If you don’t get promoted to MD eventually, you’re fired,” says TED. “You can’t stay a hardworking irresponsible junior forever.”
2. Second most stressful job in finance: Trader
Traders may not work quite the crazy hours of investment bankers, but they have a sharper, more acute level of stress. “Trader stress is in real time and can happen instantaneously,” said Sal Khan, managing director at New York City recruitment firm Dynamics Associates.
Speaking to us last week, trading coach Steven Goldstein described the insidious nature of stress in trading jobs: “When you work in trading, there’s so much that’s outside your control and that can be hard to deal with. You’re sitting there every day and sometimes the markets are in your favour and sometimes they aren’t. People start to question whether they really want that.”
3. Third most stressful job in finance: Risk management & compliance
If you think a risk or compliance role will be a less stressful option, you might be right – but only just.
Sitting in a non-revenue generating seats, risk and compliance staffers are often viewed as the enemy by colleagues who are desperate to get a transaction approved, said Cohen. Market risk and credit risk management roles are particularly stressful, said Khan.
It’s not just the stress. It can also be the feeling of disempowerment. “You’re there to escalate issues, but when you do, nothing is done about them. Compliance is a soulless job. You end up keeping your head down, collecting your money and destroying your principles,” one compliance professional told us.
4. Fourth most stressful job in finance: Wealth manager/private banker
Finishing near the top on some surveys and further down on others, wealth managers and financial advisors deal with one particular vehicle for stress: they eat only what they kill. Wealth managers get fired nearly as often as they get hired. One WM who started five years ago said he is the only remaining member of his 30-person recruiting class still in the business.
It’s a sales job, and your target is often friends and family. You start with a barely livable wage and you need to sell to remain employed. But, at its core, wealth management is a relationship business.
“People seem to think that if you’re a private banker you sit on a pile of money and that keeps the money coming in,” says the anonymous private banker behind the Banker’s Umbrella blog and Twitter account. “They’re 100% wrong. -You have to build a book, once you can get together a book in excess of €100m, you can rest easier.”
And if you don’t have a book of assets worth €100m? “It’s a job where you try to protect the assets you have from other preying bankers and run around preying on the assets of other bankers,” says Bankers Umbrella. When this is the case, he says private banking can be a harsh career choice: “By comparison, the so-called cut throat world of investment banking is like sitting on an extra fluffy towel on a warm beach while toasting marsh mellows and singing Kumbaya.”
5. Fifth most stressful job in finance: Institutional sales
Any role that focuses on sales causes stress. Couple this with the fact that the job security and the ceiling on salary aren’t what they used to be, and institutional sales can be a grind. “As technology automates much of the function, there is simply less need for a human interface,” said Cohen.
The pressure on salespeople has the potential to increase as banks shift to ‘low touch’ business models. Here, all but the most important clients are encouraged to trade using electronic systems that eliminate the need for human beings. However, there will still be a need for talented salespeople to interact with the most demanding and important clients.
6. Sixth most stressful job in finance: Management consulting
Is management consulting really a stressful career? Yes, if you’re working somewhere like McKinsey & Co. or BCG and you don’t like travel (Bain & Co. has a reputation for staffing people closer to their home office). – Management consultants typically travel a lot.
When Harvard Business School professors researched working conditions at leading strategy consulting firms in 2013, they found people who claimed to work 15 hour days and to sleep less than six hours a night. “There’s a correlation between success and the willingness to just put everything else aside and do a ton of work,” said one.
Like banks, consulting firms have implemented programs to mitigate work stress. One junior consultant who’s worked in banking told us consulting jobs are better: the hours are shorter and the work is more varied and creative.
7. Seventh most stressful job in finance: Private equity
Private equity jobs are some of the most desirable in finance. They’re also some of the most difficult to get into. Private equity funds are investors and they’re in it for the long term. This can help relieve the pressure on a day-to-day basis – except when a new investment is being made, at which point working in PE can be pretty similar to working in IBD…
8. Eighth most stressful job in finance: Equity research
Time was, equity researchers were the academics of the finance world. They got to study a stock or sector in detail and to write their considered opinion about that sector in their own good time.
These days, they’re under a lot more pressure. In the UK and Europe, ‘unbundling’ means researchers’ future output will have to be paid for separately by clients – rather than wound into the fee for executing trades. At the same time, researchers have been given a more marketing-oriented role, selling the banks’ whole platform and product to investors. Researchers are being compelled to work harder than ever before, said Brad Hintz, the veteran US banking analyst. Despite all their efforts, Hintz says researchers are often unable to point to a solid revenue stream (something unbundling may help with): “Research management is left with a begging bowl, pointing out all the insightful pieces its people have written.”
9. Ninth most stressful job in finance: Fund manager
In theory, fund management isn’t that much of a stressful career. Long only managers invest for the long term and have time to ponder their decisions.
In reality, it’s not that easy.
@CT_Osprey, an NYC-based long only manager, says working on the buy-side is fine, as long as you’re right. “If you’re right in your investments, the buy-side is an easier place to work.” If you’re wrong in your investments, he says the buy-side is just as stressful as the sell-side.
Even so, this is better than working in an investment bank: “You can be right all day long on the sell side, you still have to hustle your a** off,” Osprey points out.
10. Tenth most stressful job in finance: Technology
Like risk and compliance, tech pros get yelled at – a lot. “They take plenty of blame, even when things are out of their hands, and they constantly have to re-educate themselves and take courses,” said Lisa Mogilner, a recruiter at Dynamics Associates.
11. Eleventh most stressful job in finance: Accounting
Finishing last on every ballot, accounting is “virtually stress-free as long as you like routine and are willing to work long hours on a seasonal basis,” said Cohen.
However, Tom Stoddart, director at London-based recruiters Eximius Finance, said that accountancy roles in banks have become more pressured in recent years. “As regulators focus more heavily on capital requirements, the role of the accountant has become more important.”
Accounting jobs in product control can be stressful simply because they require interaction with traders on a daily basis, says Stoddart. Similarly, management and regulatory reporting roles can be stressful as deadlines come near. The least stressful accounting jobs in banks are those which involve forecasting and budgeting, suggests Stoddart: “These are still business critical, but they’re also more qualitative and not subject to the pressure of an external review.”