Why Do Investment Banking Associates and Analysts Secretly Want to Kill Each Other?
“Dude, this new ex-consultant Associate is such an idiot. Why do they even hire people like this?”
“At least yours didn’t make you spread the same comps ten times for no reason.”
“Why is that Analyst so annoying? Why does he think he knows more than us?”
It’s some of the most common chatter you’ll hear when walking through any bank: Analysts and Associates talking trash about each other, and occasionally plotting to kill each other.
And they’ve been at war for a very, very long time.
So how did it all start, and what can we do about it?
First, let’s define “Analysts” and “Associates” more specifically.
There is a big difference between new 1st Year Analysts and ones who have been there for awhile, and there’s also a huge difference between Associates without banking experience coming straight from MBA programs vs. ones who have done banking before.
New Analysts and new Associates don’t “mingle” too much – higher-ups rarely place them on teams together for fear of the blind leading the blind.
And experienced Analysts and experienced Associates usually get along, because they both “get it” and understand how the game works.
But you run into trouble whenever an experienced Analyst gets assigned to work with a newly minted Associate with no finance experience – whether he’s there for the summer or he’s a full-time hire.
When the average 1st Year Analyst starts, he/she doesn’t come in acting as if he/she knows everything about finance.
They’re in “sponge mode” and ready to absorb all they can.
Everyone is eager to please and willing to work long hours, all in the name of “learning.”
But by the end of most Analysts’ first years, this feeling starts to fade – if you’ve had decent deal exposure, you can learn 95% of investment banking in a few months.
So Analysts shift into a different mindset from their 2nd year onward: it’s less about “learning” and more about “Please just let me get out of here alive and reduce my hours by avoiding unnecessary work.”
…Where It Goes Wrong
But by the time the average Analyst has been working for a year, new Associates start working at the bank as well.
And for the ones who haven’t done banking before, they’re entering in “This is the best job ever! I’m going to impress everyone here and move up the ladder!” mode.
This is exactly the wrong mindset for the experienced Analysts, who want nothing more than to stop “impressing” and to start getting out of the office before 2 AM each night.
By the time new Associates start, the 1st Year Analysts have already been working 80-100 hours a week and know how banking works, what’s useful, and what’s a waste of time – while new Associates are still climbing up the learning curve.
So Analysts get pissed off easily at new Associates for making them do unnecessary work, and the Associates get confused and frustrated at the Analysts who push back at every request and argue with them all the time.
On top of all this, some Analysts also believe that post-MBA Associates “couldn’t make it” back in undergraduate, and are therefore less qualified.
But that’s not true in most cases: most Associates who are new to finance simply got interested at a much later stage.
Meanwhile, Associates are coming in with far more full-time and “life” experience than Analysts.
While they may not have done banking before, they are significantly better at networking and office politics, because they’ve been doing it for years.
And so they come in expecting that this experience will give them an advantage over the younglings.
They also expect to be “in the game” longer than the average Analyst, even if they ultimately want to move to the buy-side or get out of banking.
And that makes popularity with senior bankers even more important – which often prompts them into ordering unnecessary work done just to impress others.
They might reach the “Get me out of here” stage that most Analysts get to at the end of their first years – but it takes longer to get there.
…Where It Goes Wrong
- Analysts believe that Associates “fresh from business school” lack technical skills and that they waste time on unimportant tasks.
- Associates, meanwhile, believe that they understand the workplace, business, and how to get ahead better than Analysts and that they can pick up the finance and “process” of banking along the way.
Both sides are “right” – but they’re right at different stages.
At first, understanding investment banking and how to create pitch books and build models matters more – no matter how great you are at schmoozing, you’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t know the basics.
So newly minted Associates have a lot to learn when they first start.
But in the long-term, the soft skills matter a lot more – despite the obsession with modeling and technical skills, investment banking involves elementary school-level math at best.
Moving to the top and becoming a rainmaker has nothing to do with how slick your Excel model is, and everything to do with how good a talker you are.
And so anyone with more real-world experience is more likely to move to the top than Analysts who are just out of university.
So, How Do We Get the Peace Treaty Signed?
If you’re an Analyst, how do you tolerate a new Associate and “train” him/her to be more effective?
And if you’re a new Associate, how do you work with experienced Analysts and not make them want to kill you?
Here’s what new Associates should do to get along with Analysts:
1. Drop the “In My Finance Class…” Attitude
One time a Summer Associate spent 30 minutes arguing with me over how to factor a deferred revenue write-down into a merger model, because he thought he could “do it more accurately” based on what he had learned in his MBA-level finance class.
This is exactly the wrong attitude to have when you start.
Everything in banking is last-minute, inaccurate, and is based 100% on what the MD wants to see – not on what you learned in your finance class.
No one has time to make things perfect – “good enough” is the name of the game.
2. Forget About Where You Got Your MBA From
There is no correlation between your school, grades, previous accomplishments and how good you’ll be as a banker.
Sometimes new acquaintances will say to me, “Wow, you went to an elite university, there must be so many smart people there!”
The truth is that most people at “elite universities” are incompetent and fail miserably in the real world – you spend a lot of time debating minutiae that has 0 practical value at these places.
No one cares that you went to Harvard or Wharton, because so did a lot of other people in finance – all they care about is how much money you can generate.
3. Take One for the Team
No, I’m not talking about your trip to the bar last weekend and how you had to hit on the ugly twin to help your friend out.
If an Analyst is overwhelmed or can’t finish everything, drop your “I have an MBA, therefore I will only do rocket science work and manage others” attitude and pitch in to help with grunt work and other basic tasks.
Yes, it may cause you to go home later – but you’ll then be able to ask that Analyst for favors whenever you want.
4. Know When to Back Off
Likewise, when you have a star Analyst who really knows what he’s doing and can run a deal by himself, know when to back off and observe rather than trying to interfere with every last detail.
People in finance spend 90% of their time in the office gossiping about others, so it’s not hard to figure out who’s good and who sucks: if you have an Analyst who not only knows his/her stuff but is also polished and can talk to people, back off and learn from him/her instead.
5. Fix Mistakes
In a lot of groups, most of your job as an Associate is to catch mistakes and fix them before clients see them.
So even if you have no clue what’s going on, pay attention to output from models and what’s being presented and look for and point out mistakes.
And if there’s something there that you didn’t catch, don’t blame the Analyst or tell the VP it’s not your fault – it’s your job to find mistakes and fix them.
6. Become Friends
You have to be careful because you don’t want to treat Analysts as your “pets” – you want to treat them as equals, even though you’re more senior.
But when you have the opportunity, take them out for drinks and get to know them.
If there’s a big age gap (20 years) – or you’re married and have 3 kids, while the Analyst is 22 and single – you can’t always relate 100%.
But you should still make the effort – otherwise you’ll both end up miserable.
7. Deliver Secret Messages
One advantage of being an Associate is that MDs and other senior bankers often make you privy to information that they don’t share with Analysts.
You can use this to your advantage by letting Analysts in on “secrets” and sharing points that they ordinarily wouldn’t know about, which makes them know, trust, and like you more.
You have to use discretion here and avoid sharing anything that’s too sensitive – so still apply some common sense.
For the Analysts
And here’s what Analysts should do to improve relations with new Associates:
1. Lower Your Standards
No, I’m still not talking about the bar last weekend when you had to take the ugly twin to help your friend out.
But realize that the new Associates simply won’t know as much as you do about Excel, finance, and pitch books – at least at first – and don’t expect them to just because they have more “education.”
Expect them to create useless work at first, and gently nudge them in the right direction when that happens.
2. Learn What You Can
Also realize that even if they don’t know as much as you do about finance, they know a lot more about how the world works and the big picture of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
So observe what they do, how they talk to people, and how they present themselves, and pick up what you can.
If they have an especially “interesting” life story, ask them about it and show interest in their background rather than just thinking, “Ok, I guess I have to tolerate him/her until one of us gets fired or leaves.”
3. Be a Teacher – Not a Preacher
When a new Associate doesn’t know how to do something or gets something wrong, don’t act like he/she is clueless and doesn’t deserve to be there.
“Hedge” anything you teach by prefacing it with, “I’m not sure, but I think…” or “Everyone does it differently, but in our group we usually do it this way…”
Even if he/she is completely wrong and makes a very basic mistake, you still want to do this – otherwise you’ll come across as a know-it-all and relations will get off to a bad start.
4. Confront Them If All Else Fails
If none of this works, and you’re constantly arguing or you’re in passive-aggressive mode no matter what you do, confront them.
Start by saying, “Look, I know Analysts and Associates aren’t always ‘friends,’ but we’ve been having some problems lately and I wanted to talk to you about this…”
Rather than immediately pushing back and arguing with every point they raise, accept and agree with their points initially, and then point out how your own view is different:
“I see what you’re saying there, and I agree that you could do it that way. I’m not an expert, but usually we do it this way…”
Even if you’re 100% certain that you’re right and they’re wrong, still hedge what you say and avoid preaching.
Why Does Any Of This Matter?
You might be wondering, “Ok, but why does any of this matter? After all, bankers leave all the time, new people are always moving in, and turnover is really high, so who cares if I don’t get along with one person?”
Imagine you’ve just been in a plane crash and you’re stuck on a deserted island.
You may not like some of the people, and you don’t expect to stay there very long… but while you’re there, you still need to survive.
And it’s the same with banking: you’re put in an extreme situation with a lot of stress and long hours, which means that even 1 week can seem like an eternity.
Even if that Analyst you can’t get along with leaves after 6 months, that 6 months is a very, very long time to be arguing all the time when you’re working 80 hours a week and dealing with him/her every day.
So stop trying to kill each other and reach a compromise instead.
Remember, only you can prevent further bloodshed.
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