Investment banking roles are among the most sought after of any careers in the wider field of finance.
The large investment banks have an ongoing cachet that most companies can only aspire to – endowing on their employees an alluring mixture of intellectual prowess and prestige.
But investment banking isn’t just restricted to Wall Street alone. There are now thousands of investment banks of various sizes and niches operating across the United States.
DealRoom deals with dozens of investment banks every year giving it some insight into this industry.
In this article, we look at some of the specifics of this career, the pros and cons, and what you can expect from a career in investment banking.
What do investment bankers do?
Investment bankers work on the complex financial transactions and operations that their clients hire them for.
These include IPO preparation and underwriting, M&A advisory, debt issues, and market research.
1. IPO preparation and underwriting:
Investment bankers help companies to maneuver the famously complex process that is listing on a public exchange.
At the outset, this involves the investment bankers arriving at a valuation for the company, which will determine its opening price on its chosen public index, as well as taking care of all compliance issues.
From here, the investment bankers arrange IPO roadshows of investors and put together marketing documents for the listing companies to present to those investors.
Finally, before the listing itself, the investment bankers often (but not always) underwrite the deal, to ensure that the opening price is guaranteed to hit a certain level.
2. M&A advisory:
The biggest source of income for investment bankers, and the one for which they’re most renowned, is through the advisory services that they provide for mergers and acquisitions.
Almost every M&A transaction involves at least one team of investment bankers, and the biggest often involve a few different teams.
The tasks involved include:
- Sell side advisory
- Buy side advisory
- Developing target short/long list
- Assessment of market
- Arranging debt for transaction
- Company valuation
- Deal structuring
- Deal negotiations
3. Debt issues:
When companies and governments wish to issue debt – usually in the form of fixed debt structures such as corporate and government bonds, respectively – they turn to investment banks to issue the debt on the market, as well as helping them to set the terms of the debt (interest, duration, etc.)
4. Market research:
Market research underpins a lot of the work that investment banks do.
Investment bankers typically use high quality research as a trojan horse (i.e. a pretence for higher value work), outlining where opportunities might exist in the market for the hiring party, whether that be a company, fund, or government.
Why work in investment banking?
The rewards for working in investment banking can be as good as any industry.
And although it is undoubtedly a challenging and stimulating career, the remuneration is usually the reason that most people choose a career in the profession.
Graduates walking into a job in investment banking can expect salaries hovering around six figures.
Is a career in investment banking a good career?
The high number of candidates applying for investment banking roles every year points to a career that most view as being a rewarding one.
In 2021, the last time that it revealed figures on job applications, Goldman Sachs received 19,000 applications for 440 jobs available in its European graduate programme, and 100,000 applications for its 2,900 global internships.
As a result you’re looking at a little under 100 applications for every role. The hire rate here is about 1-2%.
By this crude measure, one would assume a career in investment banking to be one of the best around. And it is, for a certain personality trait (see section below).
The salaries in investment banking can be extraordinarily attractive. But the industry is also notorious for employee burnouts and breakdowns owing to the notoriously poor work life balance.
So, is it a good career?
On balance, yes. But it’s certainly not an easy career. At least not at the high end.
Are investment bankers happy about their jobs?
According to the careerexplorer report bankers rate their career happiness 2.7 out of 5 stars which puts them in the bottom 9% of careers.
What bankers say about their job
“One aspect I really like is that I get to help steer some of the discussions around risk. When we start thinking about a new trade or business opportunity, I help shape how we think about the risk and help with structuring considerations to get us to the right place. I get to spend a lot of time coming up with the right questions to ask and taking a view on them, that part is exciting.” (link).
“You walk across the floor, and you’ll hear people speaking Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. There are so many different cultures represented here.”
The best part, Michelle adds, is that no matter what language her colleagues are speaking, there is the feeling
“that we’re all in this together.” (link).
JP Morgan Chase:
“The idea that I could become an Executive Director in five to six years is really exciting. If 20 years from now, I’m still working at Chase, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. I have found so much of what I didn’t even know I should be looking for in a company and a career path, and a team. The growth of the work I’ve been able to contribute to, and how it impacts our customers and the business, even after six years, still leaves me a little bit in awe.” (link).
What roles exist?
When advising clients, you need experts in the field. This is where the investment analyst comes in – often specializing in one or a select few industries.
These analysts become subject matter experts (for example, in oil and gas, or telecoms and media) helping to put together the marketing documents and advise throughout the process for clients in these industries.
The associate is essentially a position that bridges the investment analyst with senior members of the investment banking team.
On occasion, they will face clients, but most of their work involves being the senior lead on the work that investment analysts perform – checking marketing documents and valuations to ensure that everything looks good and can be presented to a client (or first, a senior banker…see below).
These individuals – sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘rainmakers’, are the ones pushing sales and closing deals for the investment banks.
Thus, while junior positions are often largely seen as expendable, these positions are not.
Investment banks spend a lot of money to ensure that they’ve got the best senior bankers in the industry – usually with bulging client contact lists, and vast experience in closing deals.
Senior bankers are the ones that are ultimately responsible for generating the investment bank’s revenues.
Salaries in investment banking
It’s not controversial to suggest that investment banking could pay more than any other industry out there.
The size of transactions – even the ones at the lower end of the market – means that by taking just a few percentage points, investment banks are generating significant amounts of money, most of which is divided generously among their bankers.
Again, much will depend on your output: Investment banking is meritocratic for the most part.
Regardless of the size of the investment bank, positions tend to fall into one of four categories. In ascending order of responsibility, these are analyst, associate, vice president and managing director.
Inevitably, the salaries for these positions differ from bank to bank, and the higher the profile the investment bank, the higher the salary will be.
But as a general rule, salaries follow a pattern similar to the following:
- Analyst: $90-100k; bonus up to $100k;
- Associate: $100-125k; bonus up to $150k;
- Vice President: $150-200k; bonus up to $250k;
- Managing Director: $250-$1M; bonus of $2M+
Bonuses really depend on how many deals are being closed by the investment bank.
There is a technical limit here, it’s not difficult to see how it quickly adds up, but also how it’s difficult to pin down exact numbers.
Safe to say that you’ll comfortably be enjoying a six figure sum within a year or two. From there, it depends on your dealmaking capabilities.
How to prepare for work in investment banking
The three main components to investment banking are:
- Pitchbook writing
- Financial modelling
- Sales and negotiations
To succeed, you’ll need strong and proven abilities in all three.
The first two are largely the work of junior investment bankers (analysts) and the further into your career in investment banking that you progress, the more time you’ll spend on sales and negotiations.
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In result, showing a strength for all three is important.
It also helps to have good business acumen. Blue chip investment banks often use group interview techniques, where they’re looking at how you interact with other people and get your point across.
For example, they could present a few investments and ask the group to decide which one to forward to the investment committee.
Their HR managers will simply sit and observe what’s happening as the interviewees argue their points with people they met just minutes before.
Education needed for IB
There is no specific career path for investment banking, but investment banks do have a preference for numerative degrees.
Increasingly, that means engineering and physics graduates find their way into the profession, but most commonly, they hire from the traditional fields of economics, finance, business, and management.
And of course, it’s no harm to be from a prestigious school (in fact, it’s a distinct advantage) but not an absolute necessity.
‘Personality’ is not usually a subheading you expect to find in a guide to a career in a career field, but few would argue that it doesn’t deserve a place in a guide to careers in investment banking.
The demands of the career – outlined above – are so taxing that it’s simply not a career for everyone.
In short, investment banks are looking for ambitious, high-achievers willing to work impossibly long hours, often under intense pressure.
In the past, this meant (unofficially) that women were a rarity in investment banking.
Thankfully, this is changing and not before time. Having said that, Women already hold senior positions in most of the blue chip investment banks, with Suni Harford being President at UBS Asset Management, for example.
There’s still a long way to go, of course, and this is another indication of the macho personality, traditionally prevalent in investment banking, that still lingers in some corners of the industry.
Experience needed for IB
The best proof that you have what it takes for a career in investment banking is experience in investment banking.
That’s why the blue chip investment banks offer (gruelling) internships to check the chops of those that want to join their ranks.
For the many that are not called to this stage, there are plenty of other routes into investment banking, with experience in small investment banks (lower entry barriers) and management consulting being among the most common.
Again, proven numerical ability is a big plus.
What investment banks love more than anything – across the board – is dealmaking ability. That means the ability to originate deals and to close them.
That is their bread and butter. When you see high-profile appointments being announced in the financial press, the description of those being hired usually talks about the deals they closed in the previous years.
In summary, the best experience of all for investment banking is to show that you can originate and close deals.
How to get a job in IB
In the case that you’re reading this and still in university or at the beginning of your career, you will no doubt be familiar with the calibre of student being called to interview by investment banks.
But even if you don’t get that call, as the outset of this article mentioned, there are thousands of boutique investment banks that are constantly on the lookout for new recruits to add to their team.
Most don’t even require experience, even if it is an advantage.
If you’re further up the career ladder, this can still hold true – there is a way into investment banking through smaller investment banks.
And if there’s one quality of investment banking that nobody can dispute, it’s that it is a meritocracy, where the merit is based on the amount of money that you generate for the business.
If you keep ‘making hay’, there’s nothing to stop you climbing into better positions and more prestigious banks. Watch the hours climb as you do, though.
A final word on how to land a job in investment banking. Some of the biggest deals over the past few years have been in areas that demand highly technical skill sets – microchips, semiconductors and pharmaceuticals.
If you have expertise (and you can walk the walk, as it were) in areas like these, it will be a distinct advantage.in some banks (most banks are called onto less technical deals).
Likewise, a good knowledge of computer science is also a plus, right across the investment banking spectrum.
Gaining an edge
In a field as competitive as investment banking, it pays to have an edge over the field in some way. Anything that can help to give you a few extra points is worthwhile.
Take stock of these three solid improvements that can give you an edge right now:
- Take a course in M&A/financial modelling: Most of these can be done within a short period of time, and DealRoom has already published an article on the best M&A courses and certifications available on the market.
- Close some deals: Wherever you are in your search, it pays to have some deal closing experience behind you. If the last deal you closed was last week, your hand is already strengthened. It doesn’t have to be a mega-deal. It just needs to show your competence.
- Leverage LinkedIn: Ensure that there are keywords on your LinkedIn profile that reflect your job search. Make sure you use keywords like “financial modelling,” “investment banking” and “finance,” to ensure your profile climbs up the rankings when HR managers are searching for new hires.
Typical day of someone working in Investment banking
The typical day of someone working in investment banking involves editing and meetings.
That is to say, editing of documents and valuations, followed by internal and client meetings to discuss those documents.
Usually, the output that you see from investment banks is the result of dozens of drafts. Nothing ever gets out the first time. Everything is subject to revision.
Beyond this dedication to perfectionism of the marketing documents, research, and company valuations, are the meetings.
Investment bankers meet with clients, targets, clients and targets, potential clients (for whom they will often be pitching their services) and lots of internal meetings, with various members of the investment bank.