Investment Banking… from Vancouver to Korea to Everywhere In Between

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Investment Banking in Vancouver, Korea, and Everything In BetweenSome of the previous articles / interviews here on finance in Canada haven’t exactly generated a positive response…

But what fun would it be if we just gave up?

Especially when there are interesting stories from readers who have bounced around between different regions.

This interview is hard to put in a specific category, but here’s what you’ll learn:

  • What the finance scene is like in Vancouver (to be clear, this is only for that specific city, not Canada as a whole) and some tips for breaking in.
  • What it’s like to work in private equity in… Korea.
  • Why working overseas can give you a big advantage in winning internships and offers back home.
  • How to leverage this seemingly random background into trading.

And hey, maybe at least part of this story will apply to you, so let’s jump right in:

The Story So Far

Q: I’m still not sure I understand your background, so could you explain it one more time?

A: Sure. I’m from Vancouver and attended one of the top schools in Canada here… but the problem is that we’re not known for finance compared to some of the universities in the east, like McGill and Ivey.

Plus, I didn’t exactly have stellar grades.

The competition here is also insane because lots of people want to get into finance, but there are very, very few roles available since it’s a small industry in general, and even smaller in the western part of Canada. Most people actually end up going east if they want to work in finance.

Anyway, I started out as a science/math major, and then transferred into business and finance specifically.

But I fell behind because lots of other people here have well-connected families in Asia, and got internships like that or simply moved elsewhere to land internships.

Q: So what was your approach? Couldn’t you also just go somewhere else to find an internship?

A: I didn’t want to leave the region. So I started looking for unpaid internships at tiny places by cold calling, cold emailing, and so on, and eventually found one boutique bank that offered me a part-time internship working under an investment advisor.

It was a combination of investment banking and private wealth management, and I did a lot of Excel work, analytics, and probably more on the wealth management side than anything else.

Q: Ok, great. So before we move on, I wanted to take a step back and talk more about the finance scene in Vancouver because we’ve actually gotten a lot of questions on that. What can you tell us?

A: Sure… so as I said before, it’s extremely competitive here because there are so few positions.

There are fewer deals than in the central or eastern parts of Canada, and many of the banks here are so small that they do investment banking, structured finance, and equity research all in one office on one floor.

The industry focus is definitely mining, especially mining deals on the west coast, and lots of mining companies are actually headquartered in Vancouver (e.g. Gold Corp). You also see some technology deals and other natural resources as well.

See: Metals & Mining Investment Banking.

Q: So what types of banks do you see? Is it mostly the Big 5 Canadian banks?

A: It’s a mix. The Big 5 are here, but there are also bulge bracket banks from other countries – note, however, that they may or may not be focused on IB specifically, they might be doing something completely different, and that some banks are not even here at all.

Of the Big 5, RBC and CIBC have the biggest presences here.

And then there are quite a few boutiques in the region, especially in the form independent equity research firms, and more have been opening recently.

The driving factor there is how Asian investors are flocking to British Columbia looking to invest in North America.

Q: You’ve been mentioning how competitive it is – any sense of the numbers?

A: I’d say there might be 5-10 people total hired here each year, at the analyst and/or intern levels; maybe 1 or 2 per investment bank.

That’s why so many people move to other locations if they want to work in finance – there just aren’t that many spots open here.

On the other hand, you could argue that the hours are better on the west coast (similar to west coast hours in the US being a bit better) so the lifestyle factor may add in points.

Q: Yeah, I’m not sure how true that one is in practice.

How did you get this unpaid boutique internship? Any tips for readers who are in a similar position?

A: I didn’t use a particular advanced strategy or anything like that – it came down to finding names, setting up tons of informational interviews, and following up aggressively.

Here’s what I used to find names:

  • The alumni directory
  • Linked In
  • The school’s career website (I used this to find companies that might be hiring)

I was pretty bold about it and just emailed bunches of people and asked them to meet for coffee.

There are lots of alumni from my school here, so I generally got good responses when I contacted them. My response rate (i.e. the percentage that said something rather than just ignoring me) was around 50%, though obviously not all of those turned into actual meetings or interviews.

The interview process was pretty relaxed since I wasn’t doing hardcore technical / modeling work – it was definitely more fit-oriented.

Moving to… Korea?

Q: Great, thanks for sharing. And then for the next part of your story, if I understanding this correctly, you somehow went to Korea and worked in private equity?

That almost reminds me of how I left the country and moved to Korea years ago, but at least you had an actual reason for doing so (I dreamed of becoming an actor, only to discover I’d have to wear a rabbit suit and hop around on TV all day).

A: Yeah, so my family is from there originally and we were all heading back for the summer.

I had a few friends from school interning at bulge bracket banks in Seoul, so I contacted them, asked if they knew anyone, and networked around until I got in touch with a Partner who had started a clean-tech private equity fund there.

He had room for a summer intern and I figured I had nothing to lose by joining him – what else was I going to do over the summer, anyway? And I knew I would need some type of internship to compete with people who had actually worked at large banks that summer.

It was a mix between traditional private equity and consulting: we did lots of efficiency consulting and helped hotel chains and the like improve their operations.

But on the private equity side, we did a lot of work / investing with MBS (mortgage-backed securities) and also with some leading insurance companies in the region.

And then I got to work on a renewable energy investment deal and assess whether or not projects were feasible. Overall I learned a lot about how the financial markets there worked and how deals got done.

Q: OK, great… so let’s take a step back and go into some of that in more detail.

Can you talk about the recruiting process and how you landed the internship?

A: Sure. Cold calling and cold emailing are basically non-existent in Korea, and more broadly in Asia they are definitely less common. Yes, as you’ve pointed out before, “networking still works…”

…But it’s all done through connections here.

As I said, I got lots of referrals from friends who worked at banks here, and even went through family friends occasionally. Every time I met someone I got their business card and tried to follow up in some way.

You definitely need a starting point.

It’s easier to go into places like North America and Europe without knowing many people and just start talking your way in. But it doesn’t work as well in Asia, at least from what I saw.

Q: What about the recruiting process? Were interviews technical?

A: They were a bit more technical than the interviews I went through in Vancouver, but they still asked lots of qualitative questions: why I was interested in renewably energy, what I could offer to them immediately, what I had learned in my past internships, and so on.

As you’ve pointed out before, even “large” private equity firms are effectively still small businesses, so “fit” is critical.

Q: Yeah, that’s not surprising. You’d probably get a lot more technical questions and case studies if you had been going for a full-time role after doing banking.

Can you talk about the finance / deal market in general in Korea? I’ve gotten questions on it but haven’t covered it in detail before.

A: Sure. Deal-wise, there are lots of IPOs here – I’d say they’re more common than M&A or debt financing deals by a longshot.

But part of the reason for that is that the success rate for deals is also much lower. Many times companies want to go public, but something falls apart at the last minute… or sometimes the government blocks a deal and is very restrictive with what they allow.

Industry-wise, there are tons of tech start-up companies here, so there’s lots of money flowing into that sector. Clean-tech and mining are also popular, but they tend to be dominated by conglomerates like Samsung and LG.

The stock market here is quite volatile compared to other indices, and there’s always a lot of speculation; you see that especially with the KOSDAQ (sort of the equivalent of the NASDAQ here).

One final point on deals: since conglomerates dominate many parts of the economy here, often companies will spin off or IPO specific divisions of the company. Samsung, for example, has around 10 publicly traded stocks (or maybe more?) for all its divisions.

That’s actually great news for bankers because it means the potential fees from each client are higher: just convince them to spin off a division, then buy it back, then merge it with something else… and repeat that for all 10-20 of their divisions.

I’m joking a bit there, but you really do see companies shifting around their businesses all the time, and banks can earn high fees from all that shuffling around.

Q: Thanks for describing the market there… so obviously this was just a summer internship, but could you see yourself heading back there in the future?

A: I could see myself spending a few years there in the future, but I don’t think I’d want to stay for the long-term or raise a family there or anything.

The job itself was quite intense – around 12-13 hours per day of work on average. Not investment banking hours, but more than what you would work at a normal company.

And it’s very fast-paced because everyone else there is working hard and wants to advance, so you end up staying late just to out-work / out-perform others.

The biggest adjustment, actually, was that I had to learn the drinking culture very well because that’s a huge part of business, not only in Korea, but in most Asian countries.

I’m not into that aspect, so that’s part of the reason I wouldn’t want to be here long-term.

Act 3: Moving Back Home?

Q: Thanks for explaining that one. Yeah, if you don’t like to drink you’ll have trouble doing business in quite a few countries there.

So after this internship finished up, you moved back home… and got a trading internship?! That seems a bit random.

A: Yeah, but I genuinely didn’t know what I wanted to do long-term, so I figured there was no harm in exploring a couple different internship options in these different areas.

I had always been interested in equity trading, but I also wanted to get more exposure to fixed income trading and learn how that side of the business works.

I networked around some more and ended up interviewing with the Treasury Department of a central bank for local credit unions. They manage liquidity deposits for the credit unions and sometimes make their own investment decisions on bonds.

Interviews were fairly technical – they asked about yield curves, how swaps work, and more S&T-type questions. It wasn’t rocket science but they definitely expected me to know something about fixed income.

Q: And what do you actually do there?

A: Well, it has the same problem that any other trading-type role on the west coast has: you have to be in early because you’re 3 hours being the east coast.

So I usually get in around 6 AM, before anyone in Toronto / elsewhere arrives.

Our team is pretty small (6 people), so I do basically whatever they need me to do – everything from calculating security prices to inputting and reconciling trades.

It’s much different from doing trading at a bulge bracket bank: you don’t need to make split-second decisions and watch the markets 24/7… because it’s not a large bank.

Q: Yeah, it seems like it’s much faster-paced and higher stress on the prop trading and banking sides, but less so at a place like that.

So what are your future plans? You’ve completed 3 very different internships in different regions.

A: Long-term I am still interested in going into private equity, but it’s almost impossible to get into that in Vancouver because there are so few firms here.

So I’m planning to stay here for the time being, but eventually move to a bigger center such as New York or Toronto, and maybe even go to Asia for a few years.

I’m also aiming to pass the CFA at some point.

Q: You know that I’m about to smack you right now, right?

A: I’m prepared to dodge any attack. But yeah, I know it’s not terribly useful for PE but I want to leave my options open in case I get more interested in asset management in the future.

Q: Ok. Well, as long as we’re clear on that, thanks for the chat! Very random but I learned a lot.

A: Sure thing. I enjoyed sharing my story with you!

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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33 Comments to “Investment Banking… from Vancouver to Korea to Everywhere In Between”

Comments

      • OM says

        Point taken but you said “How to leverage this seemingly random background into trading,” which did cause confusion.

        Nevertheless, comparing treasury to trading is like comparing audit to investment banking – a bo job is still a bo job at the end of the day and it just doesnt make sense.

    • says

      I really don’t know because I never ask interviewees for school / firm names and so on as I prefer to focus on their experiences. Feel free to ask any questions on the content.

  1. Steve says

    Nice article, I graduated last year from Vancouver (working in VC in Asia now). The situation he described is fairly accurate.

  2. Knight says

    Great interview, Brian! I did not expect to see a market as small as Vancouver covered on this site, thanks for the effort.

    As to anyone who’s interested into breaking into Vancouver banking:

    1) Go to Sauder. Don’t ask why, in practice all of the recruiting efforts are focused there.
    2)Don’t be a jerk. As you already heard, it’s an extremely small market, where all the analysts more or less know each other personally. It’s great to be a competitive, driven, and alpha-personality student, but don’t be too cocky – you don’t want to be singled out as the guy to avoid.
    3)Make friends with upper year students. Often your classmates today may be responsible for screening resumes a couple of years from now…

    • Michael Kim says

      I wouldn’t say this is good advice. After getting into Sauder, half of the entering class is singing about how they are going to work on Wall Street in 4 years, people here might only pick Vancouver over Toronto if they get into a Big 5 Canadian bank here. And in the end, of an annual finance class of about 300 people, maybe 15-20 people make it into investment banking and consulting added together.

      Canadians who want to work in professional services sans accounting are much better off with Ivey, Schulich, Rotman and Queens.

  3. Fred says

    fun article but it made me think.

    i remember reading years and years ago (like pre-recession 2008) about Wall Street interns. put in nice hotels and really pampered during the summer. obviously those times must have changed given the financial situation. when im a junior (next year) and im looking for an internship that summer, what would it be like to go from Pittsburgh to somewhere like NYC, Toronto, or Chicago? Do firms pay for your living expenses or are you on your own? i guess it might depend on the size of the firm. i know Pittsburgh has great financial options but im just curious if you could elaborate on interning away from home for a summer.

    thanks!

    • says

      They generally don’t pay for living expenses anymore, they might offer a few perks but nothing like putting you up in a hotel room. Maybe they’ll do that for training or for a short period but nothing more than that. Those cities are all relatively expensive and NYC is extremely expensive, so most people live with roommates to save money.

    • says

      Ok. For some reason we attracted a high number of commentators who claim to know him in real life – I really can’t say anything there because I don’t, and we did this all online. This is what he shared, and I wanted to focus on how the industry itself was different in those places.

      • Michael Kim says

        No, we are just looking out for you Brian because in the email we received (proud subscribers of your site that we are), the line “Click here to get the unbelievable, but true, story on everything above. ” gave us a good laugh.

        Although we wouldn’t say it’s fiction, it is extremely embellished and the sob story is a farce.

        As for the information on Korea, the KOSDAQ isn’t even a volatile exchange and has been in consolidation for the last 2.5 years. This might be interesting for finance professionals who never plan on working in Korea, but for a better picture you might be better off interviewing someone who has actually worked in IB or PE in Korea.

        • says

          Ok. I embellish a lot – if I wrote an academic thesis about what it’s like in finance you’d poke your eyes out, jump in lava filled with crocodiles and commit suicide because it would be so boring. So some of that is necessary just to make it more interesting to read.

          I’m not sure why you’re using “we” – again, if you want to do an interview and correct some of this, feel free to do so.

          It is extremely difficult for me to fact-check every single interview and story because of the volume of content published here, and inevitably peoples’ experiences are different. So if something really jumps out as being wrong, I’ll mention it, but the industry differences here seemed accurate based on comments above.

          I don’t really think there was much of a sob story – he went through the standard networking methods and they worked, and then he mentioned that having connections in Korea helped.

          I agree that overall it is better to interview people who have worked full-time in the region. But as you know, most people in finance are angry and rarely want to be interviewed – so we have to take a “take what you can get” approach. I’ve gotten a number of angry comments from people over the years who say, “I HATE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS WRONG… Oh and by the way, I don’t feel like telling you what it is.”

          So, point taken, and I agree that it’s better to go with people with more experience – and when it’s possible, we certainly do so. When it is not possible, we have to go with who volunteers to contribute and use whatever useful information they can reasonably share.

  4. JR says

    Alright guys first thing is first, cut Brian a fucking slack. He is doing the best he can to get interviews with people that worked in certain places/industry and sharing them with you guys. If the interviewee answers something wrong, just explain your opinion without the hostile horse shit.

    Now, I have spent a good portion of my time growing up in Vancouver. I will come straight out and say this–Sauder is not a good business school overall in Canada in terms of recruitment of Big4 accounting, big5 bank/any bb bank. It is arguably the best business school in Canada West Coast (With SFU Beedie as a rival). But if you do get into the PMF program in Sauder, you will very likely to be interviewing for almost any place you like(ie Goldman Sachs).

    I knew I wanted to work in finance, that is why I chose to go to Western University (Ivey) instead.

  5. Tim says

    Hi Brian,

    I’ve got a question. My bank wants to send me to Asia to work (I’m white but I speak Mandarin pretty well) and I am currently working in Corporate Finance (IBD). They tell me there might not be enough corp fin deals there for now and want me to rotate to a markets related position before I move.
    Do you have any suggestions as to what markets related positions are most similar to IBD type work? I personally like to deal with corporates more than with the open markets/individual clients and don’t like the ‘speculative’ nature of the markets.
    Any help would be appreciated!!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you like to deal with corporates IBD is your best bet. In ST you’ll be dealing with mostly institutional investors. While it is speculative you still need lots of knowledge

  6. Henry says

    Hi I have a question,

    I graduated last year and originally intended to get into banking. However, I encountered a startup opportunity so I resigned my finance position. Almost 2 years into the startup, I’m finding that startups are not for me and want to go back to finance. Is it too late for me now? Is my only option to get an MBA and switch paths then?

    Thanks.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      An MBA would help. Perhaps you can speak to VC firms even though they usually prefer people with a bit more experience

  7. flighttosafety says

    It is really good story that I can achieve thx. Such information is so rarely found in Korea since the industry is still in a germinal stage. Also I agree with the interviewee’s description on Korea and why Kim does make horrible reply on this well-made stor? Thx again for m&i.

  8. antalya says

    Hey guys,

    Quick Q: I have a FIG-DCM FT offer, but got a opportunity to transfer to Fixed Income Research with the same Bank(this is London).

    From what I see exit opps are much better for FIR, hours are similar, and pay (on junior level) same. I liked early customer contact at DCM, but especially during these times I value having more exit opps (which do not exist at DCM). On the other hand, DCM is stable, my team is good and the industry is quite big.

    From the job security perspective (be it exit from banking or other bank), which do route you guys think is superior?
    Thanks for you answer!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      There really isn’t “job security” these days. Which one do you like better? I’d go with your gut and your judgment from your interactions with the team

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