A Day in the Life of a Corporate Finance Analyst: Casual Friday, Mocking Consultants, and “Critical Emergencies”
Nicolas was a Financial Analyst at General Electric where he explored the world of Corporate Finance. He is now a CFO and Partner Wild is the Game.
Warning: This article doesn’t feature models (or bottles), all-nighters, screaming Managing Directors, or VPs punching their fists through car windows. If you want to see some of that, please check out 24 Hours in the life of an IB Analyst.
But if you’re looking to maintain your sanity and still get paid well without selling your soul, you just might be interested in what corporate finance has to offer.
Here’s what to expect in your average day (only 10 hours, because you just don’t work as much in corporate finance):
8 AM: I arrive at the office before anyone else. Everyone starts between 9 and 10 AM, but I like to get a head-start and work quietly for at least one hour before the open space gets full.
I send an update about my project to my manager, because when you get up at 6:30 AM it’s good to point out your dedication to others.
Note: I’m doing a bit of “face-time” here because I’m still the new guy. But in general, people in corporate finance don’t care nearly as much about face time as bankers do as long as you get results.
After answering my emails, I start crunching numbers for one of my projects.
Usually in a portfolio acquisition, the head MD makes an estimate of the number of people required to take care of the additional clients.
But given that his latest estimate was off by 20 people, I’m creating an Excel file to make more accurate predictions.
It’s a bit of math mixed with a lot of common sense. You have to analyze comparable transactions and project the growth of the portfolio.
The only difference compared to M&A models is that less money is involved (yes, paying 20 extra people for 6 months is still “less money”). But it’s also far more interesting because every model you create is brand new vs. the templates that are common in banking.
9 AM: My manager arrives, and I’m a bit shocked by his outfit. I knew that Casual Friday was a big thing in the UK but I wasn’t prepared for this – when the guy that you usually see in a classic “suit and tie” shows up in sneakers, jean and a white t-shirt it just rocks your world.
My first casual Friday was 3 months ago and I still can’t get my head around the whole concept.
To me this Casual Friday thing just shows how useless it is to wear suits from Monday to Thursday when you rarely (if ever) see clients in person. Maybe it’s out of jealousy for consultants (not likely), or just in case a client shows up in the building unannounced (even more unlikely).
10 AM: I start preparing a presentation for next Monday. My manager offered to let me pitch my project to the Paris Headquarters. Maybe it’s because I’m French; last time he did a presentation they couldn’t understand a word (he has a thick northern England accent). Or maybe it’s because he just likes me.
Anyway, I don’t have much time to spend wondering because if I mess it up, I know that I won’t get to participate in meetings for at least a year.
Note: I’m exaggerating a bit here, but not by too much. It’s common for analysts (or even interns) to talk to VP/MD-level people because in corporate finance you’re not just another face in the crowd that will be gone in two years.
But if you make a single mistake, all this nice treatment just washes away and it’s even worse than in investment banking, because they know you and they’ll remember you when promotion season – or layoff season – arrives.
11 AM: Tea break. Apparently Starbucks doesn’t know how to make “proper” tea so we make our own. I’m French and don’t have any strong opinion about how tea should or shouldn’t taste, so I just observe and casually join in conversations (and speculation) about the upcoming bonus season.
Note: In corporate finance, bonuses are completely different from investment banking – especially at the analyst level, where you can only hope to make 2 or 3 months’ worth of salary for your bonus.
It gets better at VP/MD level where you might receive 50% or more of your base salary as your bonus – depending on your performance.
11:30 AM: My pitch is almost ready but I’m interrupted by a “critical emergency.” We have a monthly meeting at 2 PM and my manager didn’t have the time to prepare his slides (no kidding !!) so I need to do it ASAP.
I wonder how he can be surprised – the same meeting takes place every month and I’m thinking about actually booking it as an “emergency time” on my calendar.
1 PM: Damn, it feels good not to be an investment banker. I’ve been trying to align everything but this stupid title just won’t fit properly. Thank god I only spend around 5 hours a week preparing slides for other people.
Now that I’m almost done, my manager reviews it and makes me change everything by annotating with a red marker instead of using the “track changes” feature in PowerPoint. OK, I guess it’s not that much better than investment banking.
1:30 PM: All the modifications are done. I only have 30 minutes for lunch but I don’t really need them because almost everyone eats in front of their computer in the UK, which makes for quick lunch breaks.
I do miss the good old lunch with all the other analysts/interns that we usually take in southern Europe.
2 PM: The monthly meeting starts. It’s a one-hour update about this month’s performance and objectives for the next one. Every manager pitches his own business and around 40 slides are presented.
Of course, we only spend one minute on what I created. Almost 3 hours of preparation for one minute of presentation – not the best ROI I’ve seen, but I guess that’s what it’s like to be an analyst, no matter where you work.
3 PM: We’ve got another meeting. But this time we’re not the ones pitching – consultants are coming to visit us. My mission has an obscure link to their work so my boss asked me to come. I accepted enthusiastically because it’s always a lot of fun when finance people meet with consultants.
It’s their 3rd meeting with us and right from the start I regret missing the first two. They start the meeting by talking about “what’s been done so far” and apparently they “successfully challenged the perimeter of their mission”.
I turn to my boss and he tells me that they defined this very “perimeter” – in the previous meeting.
But it gets even better: they announce a “stochastic approach”. Unfortunately for them, they don’t know what the word means but everyone on our team does – whoops.
I feel sorry for them because they might be really good at what they do, but the environment is so hostile that no one would notice anyway.
In my opinion if you want to be a consultant, you should really consider building expertise in one field by working at a regular company, and then only go into consulting at a more senior level once you actually know something.
4 PM: I go back to my desk and connect to the internal job search engine. I browse through the latest openings and forward the interesting ones to a bunch of friends interested in corporate finance.
I also give them advice on their resumes and cover letters to improve their chances. It feels good to be helpful, but I’m not doing this only for the sake of philanthropy – HR offers £1200 if they recruit someone you recommend.
Given the size of bonuses at analyst level in corporate finance it would be nice to get some extra cash like that. Plus, it’s also good for my networking efforts so I try to invest in this whenever I have a bit of “down time”.
5 PM: I’m starting to think about leaving but someone from headquarters decides otherwise. I receive an “urgent” email – on a Friday at 5 PM.
So I start reviewing a financial model I developed one month ago and I send over some guidelines so that he can pretend to review it. If it takes you one month just to open a model and realize you understand nothing, then please delete your email draft and stop pestering analysts with pointless questions.
6 PM: Usually I’m off at 5 PM, but I had to deal with this fire drill first. I leave with the MD and we chat in the elevator about our plans for the weekend, and he offers me a ride to the pub. To the pub? Yeah, because it’s Friday and therefore time for after-work drinks.
I was surprised at first, just like with Casual Friday, but this one was a good surprise.
Each Friday, everyone from corporate finance meets at the pub and you get free rounds from the head MD or other managers in a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s like Christmas before Christmas for people who like to share the latest rumors about their colleagues and senior management.
It was a typical day, with some data crunching, some interesting meetings (and useless ones too) and some pointless requests.
You could find a different schedule or work environment in different companies or countries, and not all corporate finance analysts have exactly the same job. For example, when we’re negotiating an important contract my average day might look just like a day in the life of the investment banking analyst.
Disclaimer: All generalizations and stereotypes used in this article are the reflections of my own sarcastic mind.
If you want to share some stories about what it’s like to work in corporate finance or if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.
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