by Brian DeChesare Comments (296)

How to Move from Accounting to Investment Banking and Leave the Audits Behind Forever

Accounting to Investment Banking

Tired of audits?

Want to earn more and get more exciting work?

Looking forward to spending your time on changing font colors in Excel?

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to transitioning from accounting to investment banking.

Moving into banking from an accounting background is easier than moving in from engineering, but it’s about the same difficulty as a transition from consulting or law.

Here’s how to make the leap:

Defining the Scope: Ground Rules for Accountants in Search of Banking

First, this topic is more relevant if you’re in the U.S. because the CPA designation and accounting/audit/tax experience tend not to impress U.S.-based bankers, which makes it harder to get on their radar.

By contrast, in countries such as India, South Africa, and Canada, it’s more common to use the Chartered Accountant (CA) qualification to work in accounting and then move into finance.

So, if you’re in a country where accountants frequently move into banking, you should take a look at one of our country-specific articles.

Second, the ease or difficulty of making this transition depends heavily on the specific area of “accounting” you’re in and the brand name/reputation of your firm and university.

For example, if you’re working in audit at a regional, non-Big-4 accounting firm, and you also attended an unknown university, it will be an uphill battle to make this move.

Working in tax or any other area that’s not related to transactions will also make it difficult.

But if you’re working in a due diligence team at a Big 4 firm in New York, it will be easier to move in directly or to switch teams and then move in.

Finally, note that this article is based on interviews with readers who made this transition over the years. Rather than picking one specific approach, I’ve created a composite based on their feedback and suggestions.

What Are You Up Against, and What’s in Your Favor?

Bankers will believe in your accounting, math, and Excel skills, as well as your ability to work with clients.

However, they will raise objections about other issues:

  • Can you handle the hours? While some accounting jobs require longer hours, you don’t need to burn the midnight oil constantly, as you do in banking.
  • Can you pass the “airport test”? The stereotype is that accountants are “boring,” so you need to show that you have interests outside of work.
  • Why banking now instead of earlier on? Usually, it’s best to say that you had limited exposure to IB at your university and that most people went into accounting or corporate finance at normal companies, so you became interested at a later stage.
  • Do you know finance in addition to accounting? Accounting is backward-looking, while finance is based on projections. You need both for investment banking, but the stereotype is that accountants know less about financial projections, valuation, and transaction modeling.
  • Are you a job hopper? This one will come up if you’ve moved from accounting to a “steppingstone role” before applying to banking jobs, especially if these transitions happened within 1-2 years. You can answer it by saying that it was your plan all along to get into IB, so the other jobs along the way were part of that plan.

The Blueprint: Accounting into Investment Banking

No two transitions are the same, but most successful candidates I’ve spoken with over the years follow this type of path to break in:

  • University or Master’s Degree in Accounting or Related Area – And possible internships in audit/tax/accounting during university.
  • Full-Time Role at Accounting Firm for 1 Year or Less – During this time, you network with other teams and firms and learn the valuation and modeling skills on your own.
  • “Steppingstone Role” for ~1 Year – This role might be in the internal middle-market bank of a Big 4 firm, in Transaction Advisory Services (TAS), or in areas like Restructuring. You could also go to an independent valuation firm, join a corporate banking team, or move to a different accounting firm where you can work on deals.
  • Apply for and Win an IB Role – You’ll start networking for these roles midway through your second job, and if all goes well, you’ll make the transition ~1 year into it.

You do not necessarily need a “steppingstone role,” but most accountants I’ve interviewed have had one.

It’s more important if you lack top school/firm names, or if you can’t point to work experience involving valuation and financial modeling.

The ease of winning these jobs varies widely based on your region and office.

For example, a Canadian reader said that the TAS team at his Big 4 firm received 300-400 resumes for 1-2 open positions and that networking long in advance was required.

But the odds might be better if you’re in a bigger office or one with more turnover.

It’s important to move over early, but not too early.

For example, if you stay in an accounting/audit/tax role for four years, banks won’t know what to do with you (Analyst vs. Associate), and they’ll wonder why you remained in accounting for so long.

Most candidates who make the transition after undergraduate spend 1-2 years in other roles.

If you’ve been working longer than that, you may have to consider the nuclear option: a top MBA program.

Focus is essential because you cannot work 50-60 hours per week, learn valuation/financial modeling, network, and also recruit for 4-5 different industries at the same time.

So, if you’re applying to IB roles, don’t also apply to PE, corporate development, and VC jobs just to “see what happens.”

Finally, the CFA can help your case, but you shouldn’t spend 1,000+ hours on it.

You can benefit by saying that you’re studying for it and pointing to specific progress you’ve made; you don’t need to have passed multiple levels.

Here’s a quick look at each step in the recruiting process if you follow that plan above:

Part 1: How to Tell Your Story

We have a detailed example of how to tell your story from an audit/accounting background in the IB Interview Guide, but here’s the summary:

  • Beginning: Where you’re from, your university, and your first audit/accounting job. Insert an interesting fact here, or you’ll risk coming across as “boring.”
  • Spark: A client or other engagement/work assignment that sparked your interest in finance (e.g., due diligence on a PE firm’s latest acquisition, auditing financial statements for an IPO, etc.).
  • Growing Interest: You started teaching yourself valuation/financial modeling and deal analysis and moved into a more relevant role, such as a TAS/TS group, an independent valuation firm, or a pre-MBA internship at an investment bank.
  • The Future and Why You’re Here Today: You want to use your accounting, valuation, and finance skills to advise companies on major transactions similar to the one that sparked your interest, and this firm has a great reputation in that area.

You will likely get the “Why now?” objection, so be prepared to explain the lack of exposure at your university or that you switched majors or quit another career track earlier on.

If you went to Wharton or Harvard and still ended up in accounting, I’m not sure how you respond to this one.

Part 2: Networking

I don’t have much to add beyond all the other networking advice, articles, and email templates on this site.

The main difficulty is deciding on how focused your efforts should be.

For example, should you focus on boutique and middle-market banks and ignore bulge brackets and elite boutiques?

And should you target bankers with non-finance backgrounds, such as career changers who entered from law, consulting, or engineering?

On the first question, I would not recommend networking with only smaller banks.

Yes, your chances are higher there, but you can get a lot of good information and practice by conducting informational interviews with large banks as well.

On the second question, you shouldn’t target career changers exclusively or you’ll run out of names quickly.

It’s better to find people with whom you have something in common, even if it’s a stretch, because you’ll have to contact dozens or hundreds of professionals to make this move.

Part 3: Your Resume

You can use one of our resume templates, such as the “Experienced” one, but you also need to spin your experience into looking more relevant to finance.

To do that, you should remove “backward-looking” language and make your work appear more forward-looking and results-oriented.

For example, if you have an entry like this:

“Performed Sarbanes-Oxley testing and found that client’s controls were sufficient; reviewed journal entries and determined that client’s reserves were appropriate, which allowed them to project prices of raw materials for upcoming construction project.”

It would read better as:

“Worked with client to develop Excel model that allowed them to project prices of raw materials based on previous historical patterns and proven reserves; client later used this as supplement to financial statements and in internal projections to validate potential return on new construction project.”

You shift the focus to a small part of the project, but a part that is highly relevant to banking.

You may also have to downplay your full-time accounting experience and emphasize internships that were more relevant (e.g., if you completed a PE or VC internship in university).

Part 4: Interviews

We covered the most common objections above, so you must be prepared for all of those – the hours, the airport test, why banking, finance knowledge, and job-hopper issues.

And, of course, you need a rock-solid story of 200-300 words.

Technical questions will come up, but you are not likely to receive accounting questions because you’ll probably know more about accounting than the interviewers.

Beyond accounting, almost anything on valuation, M&A/merger models, LBO models, and credit analysis is fair game.

Detailed technical questions are more likely if you’re moving into banking without a steppingstone role or valuation/modeling experience.

I don’t have much to say other than “Read our guides, or look at all the free technical tutorials and YouTube content here.”

Part 5: Win the Offer

If you win an offer at the pre-MBA level, you’ll most likely start as a first-year Analyst – even if you’ve had 1-2 years of experience in accounting/audit/TAS/valuation.

Bankers tend to discount that experience and assume that you’ll have to learn everything on the job, so they’re reluctant to bring you in at a higher level.

However, you may receive an “early promotion” option where you could become a third-year Analyst after only one year on the job – if you’ve performed well.

Once you go beyond 2-3 years of full-time work experience, the appropriate position gets murkier, which is why it’s harder to break in at that point (unless you complete an MBA).

Success Stories and Examples of How to Break In

For inspiration, here are stories from readers who moved from accounting-related backgrounds into investment banking:

Story #1: Regional Audit to Valuation to Boutique/Middle-Market Bank

This one is a great example of how you can use “steppingstone roles” to move into finance. The reader here spent a year in audit, another year in valuation, and then won the IB role.

Story #2: PE Internship to Big 4 Restructuring to Investment Banking

This one shows that you don’t necessarily need a steppingstone role if your current and previous experience is close enough.

In this case, he downplayed the Big 4 role a bit and emphasized the private equity internship.

Story #3: Strategy Consulting to Big 4 TAS to Investment Banking via a Top MBA Program

This story is a good example of how to leverage banking-related experience at a Big 4 firm and a top MBA program to get in.

Story #4: Non-Big-4 Valuation to Corporate Development

The reader here found it difficult to recruit for IB roles because he had too much work experience, so he moved into corporate development instead.

Story #5: Big 4 Audit to TAS to Corporate Development

This is another story where the reader did not end up in investment banking.

But in this case, it was by choice: He interviewed for IB roles, decided it wasn’t for him, and used ~1 year of TAS experience to move into corporate development instead.

Story #6: Accounting to Financial Advisory to Pension Fund Private Equity

In this story, the reader skipped IB entirely and moved directly into a private equity role at a pension fund in Canada.

This one is probably less viable in the U.S., but it might work in other regions.

Story #7: Commercial Banking to Valuation to Investment Banking

This person was not from an accounting background, but he still used a common “steppingstone role” – an independent valuation firm – to move into IB.

Plan B Options

If nothing works out, you have a few options:

1) Stay in the Steppingstone Role

And then you could leverage this role into something else, such as in the corporate development and pension fund examples above.

2) Consider Non-Investment-Banking Options

Yes, banking gives you high pay, good exit opportunities, and solid advancement opportunities, but it also requires brutal hours and a lot of silly grunt work.

You might be much happier if you take a role in corporate development or corporate finance, or if you go into something more specialized, such as real estate private equity or commercial real estate lending.

3) Go to Business School or Complete a Master’s in Finance Degree

A top MBA program is not a magic bullet, and neither is a top MSF degree, but they can give you better access to recruiters.

They’ll also give you more time to win deal-related internships and to spin your background into seeming relevant.

4) Keep At It

You’ll likely need at least 6-9 months to have a good chance at winning offers.

The main constraint is that you cannot wait too long to make a move.

Once you go past 3-4 years in accounting, or any other field, it gets very difficult to move into investment banking without using the nuclear option (business school).

And you should never take the nuclear option lightly – even if it means you’ll never have to look at another audit again.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.


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  1. Hey Brian,

    I’m having a hard time relating my experience to something I could use for IB. I graduated at a non-target and right away started working at a BB in their product control team. After a year and a half of that, I started working in corp finance as a treasury analyst doing CF and debt projections and budgeting. Could I say that I wanted to learn technicals and financial projection and use it for IB? Thanks in advance.

  2. Fred Smith

    Hi Brian,

    I am currently an auditor with my CPA. I am thinking about applying for a finance position with a tech company at my city. I fit the qualifications pretty well except for one thing: modeling.

    I did an internship while in school where i did a little modeling and i have knowledge about modeling from your website and also for security analysis i do, but obviously i have no business experience modeling as an auditor. i worry this would be a turn off for the recruiter. while i have no formal experience, my auditing background has given me a very good understanding of building financial statements and general accounting knowledge.

    in my cover letter, should i address this problem where i talk about how while i have no formal business experience modeling, i do have experience creating my own models and have knowledge of it? Would i be better off just writing a pretty normal cover letter for the position and address it if i am selected for an interview?

    thanks

    1. You should address it in the cover letter, give examples of how you’ve learned the skills on your own, and even offer to send work samples if they’re skeptical.

  3. Hi Guys,

    I’m currently in London. I have a low Gpa from a non target university. I graduated this year and have numerous internships within the energy and engineering sector as a cost consultant. I’m currently on a Commercial Graduate Scheme working for an energy company. I really would like to get into corporate finance or consulting due to more strategic work. Should I do an MBA from a target university or a Masters in Finance?

    1. If you just graduated this year, a Master’s in Finance is more appropriate.

  4. Great article, thanks!

    I have an opportunity to join the TAS group at a big 4 after my MBA (rank 20-30 MBA program). I ultimately want to move into Investment Banking – do you think I should accept the offer? I know that the pay is less, and the work is more inclined towards audit. However, I do not have other options at this point in a related field that will give me a possibility to jump to banking later on.

    1. Thanks! I think it would be tough to move from TAS into IB *after* an MBA, but if that’s your best option, you should take it. At worst, you could always use the experience to move into corporate development at a normal company.

  5. Hey guys,

    I was wondering if you guys could let me know which majors are most useful for getting into IB. Is it still Economics/Finance, or is Accounting getting better.

  6. Hi guys,

    I just got off an interview with a middle-market IB firm in South East Asia. The interview went quite okay except for 2 questions that I didnt answer well. The MD asked me to go back to give it a few thoughts and then come back to him. Given my current position as a manager in a Big 4’s Transaction Service Group focusing on financial due diligence (joined this team straight out of college and has spent almost 5 years here), the MD concerns how I can make a smooth transition from a TS person to an IB especially on (a) adding value to the whole deal process rather than the execution part and (b) managing analysts / associates who probably have a lot more experience and knowledge on sell-side M&A than I do. Would greatly appreciate if you could give me some guidances on how to best address the MD’s concerns

    Lastly, the position that I’m applying to is VP. Many thank in advance for this.

    1. Maybe cite past examples of how you’ve helped win clients, bring in deals, move deals forward, or get clients to agree to certain prices or other terms in contracts with your firm. For managing analysts and associates, point out that you’ve had to manage team members at your current firm as well, and that getting deals done is more about process and organization than pure technical prowess. And give an example of when you had to move a deal along and manage someone else who knew more about the details of a specific client issue than you did.

      1. Many thanks for your prompt reply. Appreciate it.

  7. Hello,

    I did Accounting and business diploma 2 years ago and then got job in retail sales until now for some reasons. Meanwhile , I continued studying and got enrolled in CPA. So, currently I am in advanced level of CPA and still in retail sales work(soon to quit this job).

    I am very much interested in IB but I don`t have any kind of previous accounting or finance related experience, neither I am a fresh graduate now.

    what should be my next immediate step besides networking in order to land a IB job?

    Thanks

    1. M&I - Nicole

      In this case, perhaps getting some experience at a local/3rd tier firm can help, even if you maybe unpaid. Otherwise, I’d try to get into a top tier university for your MBA to rebrand yourself. I’d also explore options outside of IB to broaden your scope.

  8. Hi,

    I am a junior at a target, and since I have been unable to receive an IB internship primarily due to my below par GPA (3.2), do you think it is better for me to switch to the CPA/Accounting track. My school offers a BS/MS Accounting program where you complete both BS and MS in Accounting in 4 years + summer. This essentially guarantees me an Accounting job. Would the switch from Accounting to IB be easy after I start working or should I put in my 100% to getting into IB while during college.

    Basically, my question is: does having a CPA and BS/MS in Accounting, which guarantees a job, better than taking the risk of having no job or a low prestige job after college?

    I am an international student, thus can’t really work for botiques. If I’m unable to find a job in the U.S, I would have to leave the country.

    1. Yes, switch to the CPA/Accounting track if it guarantees you an Accounting job and helps you get a better GPA. You can always move over to IB later on, even if it’s an indirect path:

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/audit-to-investment-banking/

      1. Coming from a similar background, I would caveat this by saying that the Big 4 firms use GPA as a screening technique too (somewhere around the 3.5 level), and thus you might have to target the regional accounting firms. This presents a level of complexity as the smaller firms do not always sponsor certain visas (such as H1B vs. straight forward). I wouldn’t necessarily say getting a Masters in Accountancy “guarantees” you a job as a large majority of accounting students take the same route as you but will have a higher GPA. Also, investment banks will still look at your GPA when it comes time to interview. Accounting might still be the better route, but the emphasis on GPA won’t really decrease all that much.

  9. AccountingStudent

    Hi there,

    Not super relevant, but I’m about to leave for university (I live in the UK) to do an accounting course – I was wondering if you had any advice on what kind of things I could do while there in terms of extra-curricular stuff and course specifics later on that would make me more attractive to banking recruiters?

    Thanks.
    M

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes joining a finance and investment club.

  10. Hi,
    First of all, great website, good job!
    Just had a quick question. I’m currently at a big four in financial services audit on a school leaver program, but can get a degree alongside the ACCA qualification + an MSc in Accounting from UCL for a little more effort. I’m hoping this will get around the problem of not actually going to uni!
    I was wondering if I would get a look in at bulge bracket banks or should I focus more on landing a job at a boutique?
    Thanks very much for any response!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d focus on boutique firms as well as TAS groups at Accounting firms.

  11. Gayatri Nayak

    Hello, I need a suggestion, my brother currently preparing for CA final and he aims to make a career as a Investment Banker. So which are the audit firms in newdelhi who are providing opportunity in this field to gain few experience and make a career in the same.

    Kindly suggest me.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I am not 100% sure regarding audit firms in New Delhi, but this https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-india/ may help.

  12. Sajith Menon

    Hi

    I am a CA(freshly qualified) from India. I had done my interns in a small firm, and this turned out to be a barrier to me to get into TAS of any of the Big 4s. I too dreamt a lot about IB. Peresently I got a job in Audit of a Big4. What is my future?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I am not 100% sure but going to a target school for masters/MBA may help you

  13. Hi M&I,

    I’m currently working as an operations internal auditor for an oil, gas and petroleum company for almost a year. Before this, I’ve was with a big 4 firm for almost 2 years under the assurance and taxation service line. I’m 23 and I’m really motivated in shifting to Investment Banking but I currently can’t find hits in my resume to match. My company is giving top MBA opportunities, however, that would still require about 3 years of tenure. I’m wondering if there’s still hope for me in getting a career in Investment Banking. Do you think I should I quit my current job to get leads as soon as possible?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      If you can get into a top Masters/MBA program this may help you. https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/mba-investment-banking/

  14. Hi M&I,

    I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I work in big 4 audit in one of their largest groups and have been offered a lead advisory corp finance role at a smaller firm (think no.6). Their deals are mostly small to mid cap at most. Both jobs are based in London

    Are there any decent exit opps a few years down the line? Or should I stay in audit and keep trying my luck elsewhere? TAS at the moment is full in all the others

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes, I think this is a good role, even though it is at a smaller firm.

  15. Hi guys, I’m currently working in audit and am due to qualify with the CA in a few months. I have been offered a position in a rival big 4’s valuation control advisory team. My long term goal is to move into ER after a year or two and I want to do at least level 1 or 2 of the CFA.

    Is it a sensible move to take on this role? or should I hack it in audit for a bit longer. The valuations role is on the markets side i.e. financial assets and liabilities,complex derivatives etc, its more quantitative in nature with some modelling I assume, but with less emphasis on financial statements which is what I am worried about

    P.S. I’m in the UK so its a bit easier getting ER interviews

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes I think analysing financial statements are important so maybe I’ll stick with your current role for a while if you can…

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