Investment Banking in Mexico: Win Bulge Bracket Offers Without an MBA or Previous Finance Experience?
The 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.
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?
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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 answer to the “Walk me through your resume” question memorized.
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.
I 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.
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