The job of an investment banking analyst is tough. Weekly hours stretch into triple figures, workloads are unpredictable and job security isn’t fantastic. You'll have to prove yourself even before you start: successful candidates have multiple internships and impeccable academics.
Investment banks want elite graduates with a passion for the industry. Once they've snared them, they're working hard to keep them away from the cloying hands of private equity firms. Banks are ramping up salaries, handing analysts more power and making efforts to reduce their workloads. And yet for an increasing proportion of graduates entering the industry, investment banking is a stepping stone for their next career move.
“Investment banks are accepting that the current generation are not going to be working for them forever. The aim now is to keep analysts for two or three years - what they want to avoid is attrition in the first 12 months,” says Logan Naidu, CEO of recruiters Dartmouth Partners. “Investment banks want graduates who can demonstrate a long-term interest in banking throughout university, but this doesn’t always translate to a long-term career commitment.”
For all the talk of commitment to banking, the analysts we spoke to are attracted to two main things when they enter the industry – earning potential and exit options. They’re savvy enough to be looking beyond banking before they start.
Banks are conscious of this – junior bankers already earn more than anyone else, but their pay has increased by 20% over the past 12 months. Anecdotally, efforts are also being made to make junior banking jobs more interesting, with fewer spreadsheets and more in the way of client contact.
“When I joined Goldman Sachs as a new analyst in 1994, my managers had all been there for a very long time and I stayed for 13 years. Most people were in investment banking for the long-haul,” says Ziad Awad, a former MD at Goldman Sachs and CEO of boutique investment bank Awad Capital. “Now, this generation is more mobile. They’re great at demonstrating the right motivations for impressing banks’ recruiters, but it’s impossible to tell whether those motivations are real or artificial.”
Recent research by the recruitment start-up Vettery shows the scale of the problem. Nearly 60% of analysts hired in 2012 by Morgan Stanley left for the buy-side last year, while this figure was 55% at Goldman Sachs nearly all of those who started at boutique banks.
Naidu suggests that the long hours simply become too much of a drag over time. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel when undertaking internships, but committing to a banking schedule on a full-time basis is difficult for a lot of people, he says. One analyst told us that the workload is “not really something everyone can sustain”.
“Investment banks spend a lot of time and money training up young analysts. These are the best years of your career for learning and gaining the skills that will benefit you across a range of functions. Client servicing, strategy, product knowledge are all taught,” says Awad. “But the question many are now asking is whether they want to use these skills in the banking sector.”
Or, as one junior in Hong Kong told us recently: “I don’t know how long I’m going to stay, but one day I’ll leave, because when I look at those senior bankers here, I know I don’t want to become one of them.”
Investment banks tend to recruit over-achievers who are attracted to investment banking because of the money and perceived prestige on offer. As Steve Wu, a former investment banking analyst at Moelis & Co who left to join tech start-up Scopely last year, tells us: “No one will ever fault you for going to Goldman Sachs and then KKR.”
“People in banking often get caught up in the cycle of banking to private equity, or taking and MBA and moving to the buy-side. It's a ‘typical’ path and there are structured recruiting processes to get analysts through this funnel,” he says. “But the longer you stay in banking the harder it is to get out.”