Let me tell you something as someone with a working class background who’s recently started working in investment banking – getting in and fitting in is more than just wearing the right pair of shoes.
It’s no secret that as well as a top education, securing an investment banking is a lot easier if you have the ‘right’ background. There are some universal trends – private education? Usually. Top five university? Almost always. Family connections? “Well, my dad works in banking and introduced me to Dave in FIG, but I got the work experience myself….”
I’m not denigrating the perks of an above-average lifestyle. If you’re going to get into banking, use whatever tools are at your disposal. But if you happen to be in the minority from a ‘modest’ background, there are some challenges.
Firstly, there's the image you need to construct even before you get the job. I had the usual faded, ill-fitted cotton suit complemented by my dad’s special occasion tie as a student. I didn’t want to max out my credit card by spending hundreds on a tailor-made suit for the interview, but first impressions are crucial. And yes, don’t think about wearing brown shoes.
Once you’re in, everyone talks about the ‘learning curve’ being steep – the hours are long, the pressure's high and every new analyst has their hands full. For me, there’s also the ‘social learning curve’.
How do you conduct yourself during lunch? As analysts we tend to grab something on the go and eat at our desks, but I’m happy with a supermarket sandwich and some water. Without fail, my well-heeled colleagues go for the £15 ‘gourmet ciabatta’ and expensive coffee. It all just seems like such a waste of money to me.
There’s also the problem of regional accents. Either you have a neutral-to-posh Southern English accent, or you adopt the quasi-transatlantic drawl punctuated with jargon. You do not stick with a heavy accent – keep it mild. Post-work drinks are a different matter, you suddenly get an insight into a surprising array of secret dialects. It takes about three beers before mine slips back.
There are other things that seem weird to me. Like a propensity for gambling – the richer guys are competitive and want to win, but also can afford to lose. I've always been told it's just a method for flittering away money.
Where I grew up, there wasn’t much call for squash of shooting, but when your managing director and associate start arranging a game or discussing their favourite shooting grounds, you might find yourself a few degrees removed from the conversation.
Similarly, all your colleagues will ski and some may even have their own equipment and regularly get a few runs in at the family chalet. Unfortunately, I do not, leaving me snowploughing my way down the bunny slope during the annual team ski trip while my colleagues blast down the “adult” slopes. But, on the other hand, you’re on a ski slope at a 5* resort in the Alps…something that seemed unthinkable to a 14-year-old me used to holidaying in a caravan park.
These challenges are clearly not insurmountable - if you managed to get a front office banking job you probably have the wit to catch up pretty quick. The good news is, as you move up in the world of investment banking, you’ll find yourself more and more exposed to the “good things” in life and the social divides diminish. And, if you deliver consistently good work for your managing director, he’s unlikely to care how you pronounce “scone” – but, still learn how to do it properly.
Arun Jones is a first year analyst working in IBD in London