Morgan Stanley VP: "We were too busy to drink water"

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How hard do bankers work

Alice Leguay knows a lot about pay for people in investment banks. As the co-founder and COO of Emolument.com, a pay benchmarking site, she lives and breathes data points for salaries and bonuses across different functions in banking. But Leguay also knows what it takes to earn that kind of money: she spent five and a half years working in an investment bank herself.

Emolument's latest pay release provides some impressive compensation numbers for young people contemplating careers in banking. If you go into a "front office job" in M&A or sales and trading after a bachelor's degree, it says you can expect a starting salary of £50k ($65k). If you've got an MBA or a PhD this goes up to £75k ($98k). Bonuses are supplementary to this.

The median graduate starting salary in the UK is a lot lower at around £30k, but Emolument cautions against getting too excited about the comparatively generous packages on offer at banks. Yes, you get paid more - but the workload is likely to be twice as high.

Leguay has experience of this first hand. She worked on Morgan Stanley's high yield and distressed sales desk after graduating from Oxford University, rising to become a VP before leaving for a hedge fund in 2007. While she says people on the trading floor don't work the crazy hours of people in investment banking divisions, markets jobs make up for this in their intensity.

"When I was at Morgan Stanley, I didn't drink water because I was in such a rush," says Leguay. "It wasn't like we were in the office until 3am like people in M&A, but there was a lot of stress an intensity over a very long period."

To succeed in banking (and make the kind of money that makes the headlines), Leguay says you need to be almost super-human: incredibly bright, with exceptional stamina. "You're working with people who are up at 4am in the morning to catch a flight, who visit clients in two cities and return at 2am, then are back in the office at 6.50am the following day as a matter of course." As with Alexandra Michel, the ex-Goldman associate turned academic, who studied the working practices of young bankers, Lequay says none of this is imposed by banks themselves: everyone does it of their own accord. "It's just a kind of drive that permeates the people and the company," Lequay says.

As a corollary to this drive, she says young bankers almost never allow themselves to be ill - despite the pressure they're under. "You have to be tougher than tough. There are no sick days and you just fight things off - I came straight back into the office even after having my wisdom teeth pulled. It was a kind of self-inflicted pressure."

In theory banks have changed after imposing restrictions on banking hours. In reality, the restrictions simply apply to the weekends (and then, sometimes to only some weekends) and haven't done much to change working conditions overall. "If you work in a bank, you're still expected to provide very high performance at every turn," says Lequay. "You have to be there every day, at 6.30am, and you have to be totally reliable. That's part of the job."

So yes, bankers are paid well. But remember - they really have to work for it.

Have a story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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