by Brian DeChesare Comments (36)

Investment Banking in Mexico: Win Bulge Bracket Offers Without an MBA or Previous Finance Experience?

Investment Banking MexicoThe finance industry in developed markets hasn’t exactly made a strong “recovery” post-financial crisis (if you want to be bold and label it a “recovery”).

Sure, hiring is up and more deals are getting done… but most teams have not expanded quickly in major markets like the US and UK.

But banks have been growing quickly in one country: Mexico.

And you don’t even need an MBA, CFA, or much previous finance experience to break in.

It’s also one of the few emerging markets where being a foreigner might actually help you.

You could even start out in commercial banking, get bored within 6 months, and then network your way into investment banking at a top bank – like our interviewee today did:

Whither Commercial Banking?

Q: You started out in commercial banking. Any particular reason why?

Did you not know about other fields or not have access to them at the time?

A: I had studied finance and business management in school, but I was from a city with almost no finance corporations or banks – most of the big firms are concentrated in Mexico City.

There were a few commercial bankers, private bankers, and corporate bankers here, so I assumed those were my only options.

Plus, I had won a commercial banking offer from one firm fairly easily and was set to work there after graduation.

Q: And what happened when you did?

A: It was incredibly boring!

It was more of a business intelligence-type role, and did not involve much analysis of companies’ financials, their strategies, or anything like that.

About 6 months into the job, I realized it wasn’t for me. I thought about moving to a bigger commercial bank, but I spoke with alumni and other contacts and realized it was the same everywhere.

So I started reading your site and other sources online to learn more about other fields in the finance industry (investment banking, private equity, etc.).

And then I started networking and submitting my resume to actual investment banks, and yes, I even started studying for the CFA (and passed Level I on my first try).

In Mexico, there are very few Charterholders (perhaps in the low hundreds?) so it’s more of a big deal.

I won’t lie: part of my motivation was money.

In a country like Mexico, it’s hard to compete with IB and PE when it comes to high-paying jobs.

Q: I appreciate the honesty; it’s a refreshing change from all those “But I have a passion for EBITDA!” stories I hear.

So what happened when you started submitting your resume?

A: Most banks, even here, don’t care about commercial banking experience so I got poor results at first.

I actually got better results from “random” in-person networking.

One time, for example, I was at a restaurant in Mexico City and recognized the CEO of a PE fund there (we had a mutual connection) – so I went right up to him, said I liked his work and would appreciate the opportunity to work with him. He gave me his card and I called him the next week after that.

I won an interview at that PE fund, but it turned into a disaster because I didn’t even know what private equity was and I couldn’t answer basic questions like: “Why private equity?

Regrouping

Q: This sounds like a familiar tale: get interested in finance / IB / PE, don’t do well in interviews despite lots of networking, and then think about your next steps.

What were yours?

A: I turned to the CFA and MBA, of course.

I started studying for the CFA and planned to take the exam at the end of the year; I also started thinking about business school as a “Plan B.”

One of my PE interviewers even said: “If you don’t get a job in the next 6 months, you should do an MBA at a top school in the US – you’ve already been working for a few years, so you don’t stand a good chance of getting in without the degree.”

So by the end of the year, I was studying for the CFA, preparing for business school applications, and working full-time, in addition to networking via LinkedIn.

My job was so boring that I had a lot of downtime I used to contact people and send short messages.

Q: So did anything come of this networking?

A: Yes, one contact actually helped me win an interview at another, larger commercial bank in their credit risk analysis group.

Even though it was still commercial banking, the pay was better and I would learn more about companies, financial statement analysis, and valuation.

So I accepted the offer and worked there for about a year, continuing to prepare for business school and the second level of the CFA exam.

I planned to stay there for 2 years and then head off to business school.

Q: But things didn’t exactly work out like that.

A: Nope.

About a year after I started the credit risk analysis role, I got a call from a bulge bracket bank that needed to replace an intern who was leaving for a private equity fund.

Actually, the intern himself was searching for his own replacement as he was heading out the door – we had previously exchanged messages over LinkedIn and he contacted me about it.

I still wasn’t super-confident, but that same day I signed up for your interview guide – which was very helpful even with only 3-4 days to prepare.

Almost every question in the actual interview was in your guide.

I made it to the second round and did well there, but they decided to hire someone who had previous full-time experience at a boutique bank.

Meanwhile, the intern leaving this bank told me to apply to every other bank in Mexico since recruiting season was starting soon.

Banks start recruiting interns here in January, and they might keep these “interns” around for a year or more before promoting them to full-time analysts.

Recruiting in Mexico

Q: Besides that year-long “internship,” how else is the recruiting process different in Mexico?

A: Sure – banks here only offer year-round internships, not the summer internships you see in other markets.

So to get into the industry, you have to start out as a year-round intern.

During that time, you work incredibly long hours – as in, worse than normal investment banking hours.

After working as an intern for 1 year, you’re then sent to New York for analyst training, and then you come back as a full-time Analyst.

Initially, your salary is less than half of what an Analyst in NY / London would earn.

If you do well, you gradually move up, get promoted, and start earning more.

Q: Based on that structure, it seems like they just don’t trust interns to perform well.

A: That is true. I’ve heard of many, many cases where interns simply quit after a week, or a month, or whatever it is.

Local candidates are often far less knowledgeable about investment banking than interns in developed markets – so banks really take their time when making hiring decisions.

Q: So how did you begin applying to all the other banks once you went through that first process?

A: I started reaching out to all my LinkedIn contacts, and the intern himself also offered to introduce me to his contacts at other banks.

I sent very short messages to each person and said:

“I’m [Name] and I’ve worked at [Firm Names] in credit risk and commercial banking before. I’m interested in moving into investment banking – can you put me in touch with the associate or VP in charge of recruiting at your firm?”

I sent out my resume to pretty much every major bank in Mexico, ranging from the US-based bulge brackets to the ones based here.

Response rates were not great at first, but one day right after I sent out my resume I heard back from a banker at 2 AM who offered me an interview for the next day.

They were already closing the first round of interviews, but they really liked my resume and offered to speak with me.

Q: I guess the fact that he responded at 2 AM and required an immediate response from you was the first “interview.”

A: Yeah, you could say that.

After that, I got an email from an M&A banker at a large Latin American bank, and after that another call from a bulge bracket banker.

Overall, I sent out around 20-25 emails and ended up with 4-5 real interviews.

Q: That is an incredibly high “hit rate.”

You’d be lucky to get even 1 interview from 20-25 emails in most markets.

What was your secret?

A: A few things helped:

  • I had full-time work experience in commercial banking and risk analysis – so they knew they weren’t dealing with a university student who might quit 2 weeks into the job when they realized what the real world was like.
  • I had completed 2 levels of the CFA – yes, you’ve said it doesn’t help for banking, but in Mexico it actually does help since it’s far less common.
  • I had the technical skills – unlike a lot of candidates in Mexico, I had studied a fair amount on my own and had some knowledge of modeling, which impressed them.

Back-to-Back Interviews

Q: Yeah, it sounds like those points would make a difference in a market like Mexico.

So what happened when interviews began? Can you walk us through the process?

A: I spent the first 2 months of the year interviewing constantly and juggling that with my full-time job, which made for a pretty hectic 2 months.

Here’s what I went through at a few banks:

  • Bulge Bracket Bank A: I went through 12 interviews total, with all the interns, analysts, VPs, and MDs in the group. The first interview began at 6 PM and the day finished close to midnight. Each interview was around 20-25 minutes, but sometimes there were huge wait times in between interviews.
  • Bulge Bracket Bank B: There was no real “interview,” just a numerical test and an essay that I had to write. The exam was very similar to GMAT math questions, which I was well-prepared for. I spoke with a few analysts there, but there was no formal interview.
  • Bulge Bracket Bank C: This was similar to the process for Bank A – around a dozen interviews over several hours with the entire group, from interns to MDs.
  • Latin American Bank D: I interviewed with 1 senior analyst and 1 associate there and it was a very casual process.

Q: It’s interesting to see such a disparity even between bulge bracket banks. What about the questions themselves?

A: They were almost the same at all these different banks. By the 5th interview, I already had my story memorized word-for-word.

Some of the technical questions were more advanced because I had the CFA and several years of full-time experience.

One bank asked me to walk them through an LBO model, for example, and another asked me how to value a mining company with depleting resources.

Q: And were these interviews in English or Spanish? Or both?

A: It was a mix of both. Most of the interns and analysts asked me questions all in Spanish, but the more senior bankers wanted to test my English skills.

You can get by without knowing Spanish in some industries here (e.g., equity research), but for investment banking it’s critical – most CEOs are from Mexico or other Latin American countries and don’t necessarily speak English.

Q: Good news for anyone reading who already knows some Spanish and is interested in going to find work in emerging markets…

Were there any other common questions?

A: They asked the usual ones about why I wanted to move out of commercial banking and credit risk analysis (to do bigger / better / more complex deals and work with more sophisticated clients), why I was interested in pursuing an MBA eventually, and if I understood the hours and lifestyle.

always tried to make them feel good about their own jobs.

The more you can point out why IB appeals to you and all the benefits over your current role, the better off you are (within reason… don’t go in acting like you’ll be “advising CEOs” as an intern).

At the end of the process, I won an offer from one of the bulge bracket banks and started working there a few months ago.

On the Job and Tips for Readers

Q: Awesome, thanks for sharing your story.

Any impressions of the job so far?

A: It is very, very fast-paced: my first week on the job, I was already working on 3 live deals.

People in Mexico love holidays, but bankers don’t care about them – there were a few holidays when I first started and I was at the office until midnight each day anyway.

Since teams here are so much smaller, you really do get to know everyone and you’ll often go eat lunch with the MDs and even CEOs at client companies.

You get far more client exposure than you would in NY or London.

In one of those cities you might not even meet a client for your entire first year, but in Mexico you might end up running deals by yourself if the bank’s resources are spread thin.

Salaries are standardized at large banks once you move past the intern / analyst-level – so after you work here for several years, you’ll be earning closer to the normal rates in developed markets.

But the cost of living is far lower (rent is about 5x cheaper than Manhattan), so you end up saving a lot more.

Q: Thanks for sharing all that.

What about your own future plans? Are you still going for the MBA at some point?

A: I’m going to stay here for now and push back the MBA by a few years.

Most analysts stay here for 2-3 years and then do an MBA or switch industries – but around half the senior bankers don’t even have an MBA, so it’s certainly not required.

Another quirk is that you may get promoted more quickly, even without an MBA, so it’s hard to justify leaving for another industry.

The main downside is that experience in Mexico IB is still viewed at a “discount” to experience in a major financial center like London or NYC, so it would be tougher to get into a top buy-side firm (for example).

Q: Any tips for readers who are thinking about going to work in Mexico?

If you’ve had trouble winning offers in the US or UK or other developed markets and you know Spanish, is it a good idea to go there?

A: It can be.

Foreign work experience is highly regarded here; if you have some connection to the country, you know the language, and your technical skills are solid, it’s a great place to be.

Just make sure you understand recruiting and the year-long “intern” phase first: a year-long internship with crazy hours is much tougher to survive than a summer internship with crazy hours…

Q: Great. Thanks for your time!

A: My pleasure.

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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Comments

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  1. Hi Brian,
    Here a native Spanish speaker currently working at a bank in Canada and candidate to CFA Level 2. I have started to consider moving to Mexico only if I can land a job in IB. Do you think is possible to make it? Specially if the only way of contacting people and networking is through linked in? Also, if you are still in touch with the interviewee, would be possible to contact him? Thanks

    1. Impossible to say because I don’t know your academics, previous work experience, etc. LinkedIn is the best way to find people; email is the best way to contact them for networking purposes. This interview was done years ago, and interviewees tend to become less responsive over time, but I can attempt to contact him.

      1. Thanks for your response Brian, and would really appreciate you attempting to contact him.

  2. Hi! I’m moving to Mexico City to search for a job in IB, I was an auditor for 2 years, graduated as an accountant but with regular grades, I have read like 10 books of finance, economics and banking so i have a good understanding and I feel ready for interview questions, my question is: what should I expect? Get an internship? Or I can dream with getting an analyst position? And if I get an internship, will they pay me? Money is not that important but I have to pay my rent

    Regards!

    1. I’m not sure how much lateral hiring they do in Mexico. I think it’s possible, but you will probably receive a heavily discounted salary for the first 6-12 months even if it’s not labeled an “internship.” I would be surprised if they pay you nothing – and if that’s the case, it’s not worth accepting. You should apply for Analyst roles because you have full-time work experience already, but expect them to make you complete some type of trial first since you haven’t worked in IB before.

  3. Hi Brian,
    I´m Studying a Statistical Master degree (I´m going to graduated in June 2019 at 25 y/o and GPA with 3.7 or 4.0) by one prestigious center of research in Math here in Mexico with a Math degree (with honors and GPA 4.0) for the same research center, of my trajectory (I´m studying the Schweser notes and in the past I won a Math Olympiad in Mexico) I think I will pass the CFA level 1 in December 2019.
    I´m interested in IB (get in eventually), but I don´t have work experience (all my life I was a student) and the internships (for summers by example) are very uncommon here in Mexico. I don´t know how to maximize my possibilities to break in IB when I´ll be graduated. I won´t have any problem with the hours in IB (cause a lot of my family work in the medical services and then they work long hours), and well, the question is:
    What are yours recommendations for break in IB (in Mexico) as quickly as possible when I´ll graduate? Try to get a job in IB (even without work experience)? or try in a Quant position (I have some friends who work like quants)? or in a bad case (without amy intention of offending) in a Credit Risk position? or if you have any recommendation (I´ll be very grateful).
    By the way, I have knowledge about data science (then at least I´ll get a job in Business Inteligence area) and a DELF B2 (French certificate), but I´m not very interested in Business Inteligence jobs.
    Greetings.
    Ricardo.

    1. Everything in Mexico (and often, other Latin American countries) depends on the year-round internships the interviewee discusses here. You pretty much have to complete one to win a full-time IB role. If you don’t want to do that, think about completing another degree in Europe or the US and then recruiting for IB internships in those places. Quant roles are another option, but they’re quite different from IB and present very different advantages and disadvantages (better hours, potentially good pay, but not as much of a “path” and more limited exit opportunities).

      1. Thanks for your prompt answer Brian. I´m interested in the long term in pros and cons of IB (then I don´t have any problem with one year Intership) and I listed others possibilities of jobs because between June/July and January/March (when I´ll graduated and when banks open one year intershipss for IB) there is a lot of time and I don´t know which is your recommendation about what job pick during that time or if I should study (exclusively) for interviews or CFA during this time.
        And in other hand, I saw your interview guide and I have questions for boost its benefits (in my particular case):
        What are the pre-requisites for a good understanding of your interview guide? (CFA I or II?).
        If I want to gain higher chances for break in IB, how many hours do you recommend studying the material? or how many months before expected time of interviews?
        Thank you, Brian.

        1. I don’t understand your first question, but you should do anything you can to win an IB internship. You don’t need any CFA knowledge to use our interview guide, but some basic accounting knowledge would be useful because we move quickly and cover a lot of material in very little space. Realistically, you probably need 3-6 months of study at 1-2 hours per day to have a good shot at IB roles, assuming you have not yet started preparing.

  4. Marco A. Serrano

    I’m currently working in a company within Foods & Beverages sector as an M&A Analyst.. any suggestions to break in PE or IB?

      1. I forget to mention that I’m in Mexico.. does the master degree suggestion also apply in this case?

        1. Yes, but you should do the Master’s degree in the U.S., U.K., or some EU country for the reputation of those schools.

          1. Is it necessary to take an MBA or it could be a Master in finance?

          2. It depends on how much work experience you have… if it’s just 1-2 years, a normal Master’s is better:

            https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-masters-programs/

      2. Is it possible to get the contact info of the guy of these interview?

        1. This interview was not recent, so no, probably not (interviewees tend to become unresponsive after a few years).

  5. So I have been working for 2 years as an analyst in a middle market Investment Bank located in Chicago. I was promoted to associate last month. I am originally from Mexico, and I want to move back and keep working in the same industry.I am also taking the CFA level 2 exam on June. What would be the best way to get into a Bulge Bracket IB in Mexico?

    1) Contact MDs through LinkedIn?
    2) Stay in the USA for Business School and then move?

    Any advice would be appreciated.

  6. Great article, I’m a 4th-year undergrad majoring in Finance (expected graduation Dec-2016) in Mexico and I’m determined to go in to IB right after graduation. My first question is, how would you compare the viability of getting a full-time job offer at a bulge-bracket bank in the US vs starting my career at an IB in Mexico? Secondly, assuming it’s the latter path, how much value would it add to my resume when thinking about
    a) jumping to an IB in the US
    and/or
    b) getting admitted in to a top school in the US to do an MBA

    I’m also searching for summer internship opportunities, generally speaking what are US banks’ take on summer internships for international students? Not even sure if its legally possible…

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say b is probably the most straight forward and easier choice. Yes you may have to get a visa if you want to work in the States and it maybe easier to 1) go through internal transfer 2) go to a top bschool in the States

  7. I have contacted an investment bank in Mexico! And they have requested to send them my resume. I think havinh two cousins that work as accountants for the Mexican Government helped me stand out. But, how should I prepare? I have never taken the GMAT, since I only have two Associate degrees. Any advice, on how I an prepare?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d just make sure that your resume is as polished as it can be: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-resumes/

  8. What certifications are required for investment banking in Mexico? Is there an equivalent of FINRA? Series 70 equivalent? Series 79 private offering equivalent?

    1. The interviewee didn’t mention anything specific, but the ones you mentioned could potentially help; however the CFA still likely carries the most weight (and you can just say you’re studying for it right now).

  9. I’m from Mexico but currently studying in the US. Is there a way to contact the interviewee? I would love to speak with him.

  10. BBQ Shape

    This article is very interesting. I imagine that it has to be like the Wild West with stock issues, financial reporting, and the deals that PE and VC firms get involved in. If not for any other reason, the legal system alone has to present some challenges.

    There is no law against perjury and it’s perfectly legal to lie under oath in your own defense. Undercover operations are unconstitutional and so none of the evidence that could be obtained via a sting could be used in court. Also, I’m not sure if this is all states in Mexico, but most states will not investigate any accounting mishaps or accounting fraud that involves two companies. The company wishing to bring charges forward has to provide its own forensic accounting evidence before the state will do anything. Another fun fact is that it’s actually not against the law to slap someone if no damage can be observed by a medical doctor hours after the event since traditional “assault” or “battery” do not exist in the penal code for state or federal like it does in the US or UK.

    What’s the risk premium like with all of this in Mexico? Apart from the risk of being slapped of course. It’s not as bad as China where a local official can actually overturn a judge’s verdict with no explanation and no checks and balances, but it’s more in that direction on the sliding scale of investment safety.

    1. Yes, it is somewhat crazy for the reasons you mentioned. I think accounting standards are a bit better now, but yes, it is definitely more of a “Wild West” environment in Mexico.

      I imagine risk premiums are a lot higher… you see discount rates of 20-30%+ in a lot of emerging markets and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that in Mexico as well (maybe someone working there can confirm?).

  11. Brian, I work in an IB boutique in Mexico and used to work in a bulge braket also in Mexico, I even belive I was in the exact same process the interviewee was. I have a similar experience with different outcome and different background that i believe will complment very well the article of Investment Banking in Mexico. Please let contact me if you are interested in hearing my story.

    1. Thanks – I received your email and will respond so we can set up a time to speak soon.

  12. Nice info.
    Slightly off topic but in developed markets in USA,UK once you upload your CV you have to complete a numerical test , does that test have questions which are similar to maths section in GMAT?

    1. Yes, some of the questions are similar but the GMAT ones are generally more difficult.

  13. My mistake, the “interviewee”.

  14. Hi,

    Here a native Spanish speaker trying to break into IB. This interview made me start considering about Mexico. Will it be possible to contact the interviewer?

    1. Thanks! I will ask the interviewee and let you know – he is quite busy at the moment but I’ll wait for his response.

  15. I am a college senior with internship experience at one of the larger middle market investment banks, I am interviewing with boutique banks in the US, but I am interested in pursing ib opportunities in Latin America. Would a non-native Spanish speaker have a shot at one of these jobs? I have studied in a Spanish speaking country, but no one would mistake me for a native speaker. Also, how difficult would it be to go back to the US later? Alternatively, how difficult would it be to work at a boutique for a couple years, then move to Latin America?

    1. If you can speak reasonably well, you have a shot even if you’re not a native speaker – but you definitely need a higher language proficiency than you would in, say, equity research. If you can interview decently in Spanish, it’s do-able.

      Going back to the US would be possible, but you would probably get “demoted” and might not receive credit for a year or so of experience (just speculating there based on other emerging market to US-type moves).

      Starting in the US and moving to Latin America would be much easier than the reverse, and if you want to be in the US for the long-term that probably makes more sense.

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