Investment Banking: Canada Edition

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Investment Banking CanadaCanada and the US… pretty much the same, right?

How different could recruiting and the finance industry really be?

As it turns out, “a lot.”

In this interview with a reader who currently works in investment banking in Canada, you’ll learn:

  • Networking ninja tactics – who knew the library could be so helpful?
  • How recruiting differs in Canada and how you can break in
  • Differences in the finance industry, the work itself, and exit opportunities

Let’s get started:

Breaking Into Banking… via the Library?!

Q: You have an interesting “how I got my first internship” story – let’s hear about it.

A: Sure. I was originally an accounting major and had done a few accounting-related internships, but was pretty clueless when it came to finance.

But I was very curious about the field, and one day I was in the library reading books on investing and learning what I could from each one.

I flipped to the back of one book and the author’s bio said that he was an alumnus from my school, and that he lived in my city – so I Googled him, found his contact information, called him and then proposed interning for him for 3-4 months for free.

He responded by offering a paid internship instead, which is where I got started.

Networking 201

Q: I think that’s one of the best networking stories I’ve ever heard.

It sounds like you were more direct with your networking tactics than most other aspiring bankers – what other stories can you share with us?

A: Once I met another high-level financier at my school – well-known, but not a “target school” – at a presentation there. I got his contact information, then met up with him for coffee and pitched him an investment idea on the spot.

That took him by surprise and impressed him because most people don’t have the nerve to do that.

It didn’t directly lead to a job, but a few weeks later I saw a job posting for another finance firm on the same floor in the same building as his company – so I asked him about it, and got a referral to go around the normal channels and speak directly with people at the firm that posted the ad.

I got into banking by taking a similar approach as well: I simply contacted another acquaintance and asked for what I wanted, getting a referral to a well-known M&A group in the process.

Q: So it sounds like being direct pays off – or at least it did for you.

A: You can’t be too in-your-face, but being direct worked way better for me than sitting around and trading emails for 9 months while you’re afraid to ask for an interview or propose an internship.

You want to show that you’re smart and that you can learn quickly, but you also want to be modest in your approach and not “brag” too much when you call someone.

Q: What about the numbers here – how many people were you calling or emailing each day to get results?

A: I called about 7 or 8 people per day for 2-3 months to get my full-time offer.

I didn’t call anyone on Mondays or Fridays – I just used those days for collecting names. I aimed for around 30 new names each weekend, which was enough for the 7 or 8 people per day I mentioned before.

Of those 7 or 8 people, I got through to about 2 or 3 per day via a combination of emailing and cold-calling.

If you want to get past gatekeepers, being nice to secretaries is essential – if you’re super nice and good at sweet-talking them, you’ll be able to get through to a lot of “unreachable” people.

But a lot of it also depends on the person and the mood they’re in – if someone’s having a bad day, you may just not be successful. And sometimes people get freaked out if they find out that you Googled their name to find them.

Recruiting in Canada

Q: How difficult is it to break into investment banking in Canada?

A: The degree of difficulty is very similar – there are fewer positions, but there are also fewer people applying in the first place, so those two factors even themselves out.

If you’re from Canada then you’ll have a more difficult time recruiting in the US because top schools here are not as well-known in the States, and because of the usual work visa issues.

But sometimes if you’re coming from the US – especially if you went to a top school there – it can be easier to break in here.

Q: You mentioned the work visa problems for Canadian citizens looking to work in the US – do you have any friends who made the move successfully? How difficult is it to get around these issues?

A: I’ve had friends who have done it, but they all came from the top undergraduate business schools for investment banking here, e.g. McGill and Ivey.

I don’t know how difficult it is personally because I focused 100% on banks in Canada instead – I just figured that my chances would be higher and that there would be fewer issues.

Q: Let’s talk about the actual recruiting process in Canada. How are resumes and interviews different from the US and other regions? Are there assessment centers like you see in Europe?

A: No assessment centers. Resumes are pretty much the same, but there are a couple differences in investment banking interviews:

  • There’s more of an emphasis on “fit” questions because the offices are smaller, and they want to be 100% certain that you are the perfect candidate.
  • I had an additional round of interviews after my Superday interviews – they brought in the top 3 candidates and interviewed us again to determine who would get the offer.

M&I Note: These differences may apply outside of Canada as well.

For example, both of the points above are true at many small private equity firms in the US – they focus obsessively on “fit” questions and may put you through 20 rounds of interviews because they’re tiny and “fit” is critical.

Investment Banking in Canada

Q: So recruiting itself sounds similar, though there are some differences due to the average office size in Canada.

What about the industry itself? How is Canada different from the US?

A: Sure. The industries in both countries are more different than the recruiting processes – here are the key points:

  • It’s smaller – Everyone knows everyone else, and there are only a few major financial hubs – Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal.
  • It’s less structuredDirect promotes from Analyst to Associate after 3 years are more common here, and getting an MBA is not as common. They are also more willing to take on people from unconventional backgrounds.
  • The industry focus is different – In Canada, the big industries are mining, natural resources, and energy. In Montreal and Toronto there are some tech, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies, but overall the industries we cover are narrower than what you would find in the US.

Q: You’ve mentioned a couple times now that offices are smaller overall – does this also mean that deal teams are smaller and that Analysts get more responsibility?

A: Definitely. Deal teams are leaner overall, and sometimes entire teams here consist of just 10 bankers (M&I Note: Even at middle-market firms in the US that would be small – sizes in the dozens are more common).

I’ve seen Analysts take deals from A to Z before, and do things that are normally reserved for Associates and VPs.

Q: What about the ratio of clients and deals to pitches?

A: That’s dependent on your bank, your group, your location, and the industry, so it’s difficult to generalize – but overall I don’t think it’s too much different from banking anywhere else.

Right now, I’m working on 7 major projects and of those, 5 are pitches and 2 are deals.

So I’m only spending around 30% of my time on clients, but that’s common for investment banking unless you’re in an extremely busy group.

Q: What are the hours like?

A: I’ve been doing 90 hours a week since I started – pretty much the same as the US and other developed markets.

Don’t come here thinking that you’ll be leaving at 7 PM every day just because it’s Canada!

Q: You mentioned earlier that there are more direct Analyst-Associate promotes in Canada. Does that mean that rather than pursuing the usual exit opportunities, most bankers just stay in the industry?

A: I wouldn’t say “most” bankers here stay in banking, but there is definitely less of an obsession with exit opportunities.

I’ve seen a few people leave for the buy-side, but overall the percentage is lower than in the US, where almost all Analysts move on after 2-3 years.

One other difference is that the MBA to investment banking path is rarer here – I don’t know why exactly, but it’s more unusual to jump into banking if you’ve already gone to business school.

Q: You’ve now worked in a couple fields within finance and accounting – what are you planning to do in the future?

A: At this point I’m planning to stay in banking for a few years and then move into private equity.

Accounting, asset management, and private wealth management were not for me – I like being on the transactional side a lot more, so banking and PE are a better fit.

Q: Great, thanks for your time.

A: No problem.

Finance in Canada – Series:

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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194 Comments to “Investment Banking: Canada Edition”

Comments

  1. ManBearPig93 says

    Hi,

    I am a Canadian citizen and I live in Toronto. I come from a poor family and that is the reason I ended up going to Seneca College and received a 2 year Diploma in Accounting (I completed the diploma in one year … summer school). My GPA was a 4.0 (Honor graduate). My work experience includes being a Sales expert/Promoter for a IT Company and I was an Assistant Financial Accountant at a big fashion retail ($30Mil turnover).

    My major is accounting and I start school at Ryerson University in Toronto (I have 3 semesters worth of credits from college). I wanted to know if there is any possibility that I could make it in to Investment banking.. If so, what kind of work experience should I be looking for and what companies should I apply to? I read that I could work at a big 4 firm, get my CPA and go to TAS and then try with an MBA but that is a long and arduous process compared to going straight in to IBanking itself.

    What other areas of finance would be possible for me with an Accounting degree? I am looking for a career that is stable and would pay off in the short and long run (I want to know what it feels like to be rich/upper middle class). Thanks

  2. WMBS says

    Hi,
    I’m a long time reader. I recently had a internship stint at a Canadian bank as a business analyst for their wealth management division. How easy is it for a business analyst to swap over to the investment banking side of things.

  3. IBTO says

    Hi,

    I’m a second-year student at University of Toronto and a recent IB enthusiast. I want to secure a summer or an off-cycle internship but have just started with my application process.

    I recently got in touch with some people from the field and would like to leverage that to get an offer. Is it too late to go through the normal application process? Should I just hustle?

    Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You’ll have to start networking and cold calling people. It may be best to focus on boutiques/smaller firms because their recruiting process may be less structured. If you can demonstrate your value, it may be easier for you to break in versus going for larger firms/BB. I think it may be a bit too late for you to go through the normal application process.

      • IBTO says

        Thanks for the reply Nicole! Going to have some informational interviews these next few weeks and will keep that in mind. Is it possible to go around the normal application process though?

  4. Jack says

    Hello there. Brief background about myself. I am currently in my early 30s. I have a Bachelors and Masters in Engineering from one of the top two engineering schools in Canada. Have very strong software design/coding experience and very strong quant ability. Currently in Law School and have solid experience with intellectual property and patents. If I want to break into banking (seems to be more profitable than IP law), how can I leverage my skills? I will likely be around 35 before making the transition. Of course, since I am not coming from a traditional background, I will have to make many cold calls I am sure.. Any advice on how I can sell myself? I would imagine a combined engineering/quant/law skill set will be useful in SOME capacity? What are my chances??

    You guys are awesome and your advice is much appreciated.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Perhaps you can move into IPO/M&A law and then break in? It may be an easier option if you’re already a lawyer. If you want to break in now, you’ll be competing against others who have had industry and deal experience and you’ll have to demonstrate you have IB knowledge/experience.

      I’d probably look at roles in smaller firms like HFs and PEs because your quant and law background may be of interest to them, though you’ll have to make up for your lack of IB/valuation experience

      Thanks for your support of your site and your trust in us.

      • Jack says

        Thanks Nicole for the quick response.

        With respect to moving into IPO/M&A before breaking in, I’d rather NOT spend time in the legal industry first – I’d rather jump straight into banking right after law school. I can certainly take courses that are relevant to Corporate Law (which I have already done a bit). That being said, I already do have intellectual property experience and I will take a look at HFs and PEs as you suggested. Do these firms have any interest in patent portfolio analysis and the like?

        Also, how do you think I can sell the fact that I went to law school first and then now trying to jump into banking? To be honest, I was concerned about the banking market when I decided to go back to school and IP law is a very stable and somewhat profitable field – thus my decision to pursue a JD instead of a MBA. But, now banking appears to have recovered and there is more money in it.. I can’t really say THIS to someone I am interviewing with.. What do you think is a good way to spin the story? Thx!

  5. Eric says

    Does it matter which Canadian IB I go to if I’m looking at PE opps in Canada? Would I be disadvantaged if I went to a Canadian instead of a US BB in toronto? My main concern is if going to a US BB would put me in a substantially better position if I want to go to a top US bschool

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Working in a US BB may put you in a better position if you want to go a top US bschool. With the above being said, your work experience (deals you’ve been involved in), your recommendation letters and essays probably matter more though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

  6. says

    Does Canada (especially Toronto) usually welcome U.S. potential hirees?

    And is getting an MBA in the States going to help my argument more into breaking in a BB in Toronto?

    Thanks for your time.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you go to a target in the States, yes this may help you. You’ll also be competing with candidates from top universities in Canada though.

  7. Brandon says

    Hi, I am currently working in Transaction Services for a big 4 firm in the US on a H1B visa. However, I am looking to make the transition to a BB in Canada. May I know what is the best way to go about it? Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d start networking and arranging informational interviews. I’d then fly down to Canada and meet up with your contacts.

  8. Rahul says

    Hey Nicole,

    I am a graduating with a bachelors in business from UK. I am planning to move to Canada to Diploma in Accounting from UBC/Sauder, which will fulfil my requirements for CPA. If I have to go for IB, what is the best possible way to go about it, in Canada?

  9. Adrian says

    Hello Nicole,

    I’m a new reader and have recently gotten interested in IB as per some recent networking experiences with some IBankers. From what I can tell most of the larger IB firms tend to hire exclusively from the top undergraduate programs here in Canada (i.e. Ivey, McGill). Unfortunately, I am not in a top-tier Canadian finance school and this being the case I was wondering if you could offer some guidance as to what I could do to differentiate myself from the pack. I have been actively networking and trying to get in through the “back-door” approach but is there any way you can suggest that I could make myself more appealing when applying through the “front-door” approach?

  10. Rahul says

    Hello,
    I’m a Canadian citizen who will be a freshman at Wharton this fall. Will I have a harder time applying for internships and full-time positions (especially those at BBs) because I will need sponsoring? If so, what can I do in the coming years to help myself?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes it can be more challenging but I wouldn’t worry about it because quite a few Canadians work on Wall Street. You may just have to network a lot, build your credentials, gain work experience, just like every A-player does, to distinguish yourself.

  11. JD says

    Hello. Thanks for the reply.

    3 more questions; 1) “If you want to get past gatekeepers, being nice to secretaries is essential – if you’re super nice and good at sweet-talking them, you’ll be able to get through to a lot of “unreachable” people.”

    What should one ask the secretary when speaking to them? Would directly asking for names be a bad idea? I’ve spoken to many secretaries and sometimes redirected to MD but I almost always get their voice-mail. Are there any articles I can look at that relate to this topic?

    2) “In Canada, the big industries are mining, natural resources, and energy. In Montreal and Toronto there are some tech, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies, but overall the industries we cover are narrower than what you would find in the US.”

    Is the US list of industries noticeably larger? Does this make a difference in pay or possibility of career opportunities?

    3) Overall, would you say pursuing a job in Canada would lead to more opportunities, success and a higher salary compared to the US or would it be vice versa? Would it be somewhat equal?

    I’m sorry about the long response I know I’m asking a lot but if you can find the time to response I’d really appreciate it.

    Thank you.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. Yes great post by Keith Ferrazzi here: http://keithferrazzi.com/content/reach-high-profile-targets-quickly-five-steps-artfully-manage-gatekeeper
      2. I think it depends on the particular industry but yes US in generally maybe bigger in some of those industries (you may want to check re. energy/natural resources I don’t have the stats). In terms of pay I’d say it depends on the firm but I am not sure if the difference is that big but then again it depends on individual situation
      3. I’d say it is somewhat equal; all depends on your performance

      • JD says

        (1 & 2 – your comment on individual situation/performance) I assumed as much!

        Currently in uni. I ultimately would like to work in NY simply to say I do (haha, call me shallow), but I would be happy to transfer over (which right now seems to be the best option to optimize my chances of landing into a good firm there) after working a few years at a nice firm in Toronto.

        Of course this is all easier said than done.

        Thanks for you help!

        • M&I - Nicole says

          No this isn’t shallow. If you want to transfer to NY, I’d suggest you to transfer internally (if they have an office there), or try to cold call people via LinkedIn, set up meetings, and fly down to NY.

          • JD says

            I’ve had the jitters, afraid I won’t be able to make it to NY IB for some reason. I still have 2 years to graduation but it’s good to think about these things. I’m networking for internships currently (in Canada).
            Thanks for your help!

          • JD says

            Hi @Nicole. I’m not sure if you remember our conversation, but I was actually hoping you could give me some more advice. If I was planning on switching internally, how would I go about doing it? Furthermore, at what point in my career after landing a position would be a good time to transfer? Also, just off the top of your head, would a bank like RBC, Toronto Dominion or any of the top 5 banks from Canada be banks that you believe would be worth targeting towards landing an IB career in? How do banks such as these compare to some of the bigger IBing firms in NY? Lastly, I’ve read Ibers often hop from one bank to another – is this true?

            Thanks again for your help. Looking forward to hearing from you.

          • JD says

            Thank you for all your help! I’ll be sure to come back if I have any more questions. Have a great afternoon.

  12. Cosmos says

    Hi Nicole,

    I currently work for one of the big4 banks in toronto and looking to switch from procurement to IB. I have decided to do an MBA hoping to land an associate position at my bank. The question is, is it too early to start cold calling MDs and asking for what they look for in candidates when hiring? Also do you think that Rotman compare to Schullick will give me a better chance at land a position in Capital Makets.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d network and send MDs a cold email, though I wouldn’t necessarily cold call and ask them what they look for straight away without having established a relationship with them first. I’d say both are decent schools, though readers may have better suggestions re. differences b/ the 2.

  13. D Adesoye says

    Hi Nicole,

    I worked in Corporate Banking (Energy Division) for like 5 years in my country as Relationship Manager before coming to Canada for my MBA at Gustavson School of Business (UVic). I am and also a CFA Level 2 Candidate and was wondering if its possible for someone with my status to land an IB Associate job in Canada considering that my business school does not rank amongst the top in the country.

    I have kind of put a bit of effort into networking but it just seems like the top business schools in Ontario and McGill get all the gig. Any ideas please. Thank you.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes, you’ll need to network quite a bit and contact all the banks in Canada. You may also find that cities like Calgary are less competitive than Toronto given that you are not from a target school.

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