by Brian DeChesare Comments (188)

Money, Hours, Models, Bottles: Investment Banking in New York, California, and Everywhere In Between

Money, Hours, Models, Bottles: Investment Banking in New York, California, and Everywhere In Between

“Are you guys even in the office past 8 PM? Whenever I call no one’s there.”

“New York is hella lame, people are so much better out here.”

“If you say ‘hella’ again I’m going to make you pay for the bottles next time – and maybe the models too.”

“Fine, I’ll do some research and see what I can send over. NY is still overhyped, though.”

No, it’s not a short story or a new TV show about bankers – it’s a banker from NYC and one from San Francisco talking to each other.

And you read that headline correctly: today you’ll learn how banking differs in different regions of the US rather than going off on adventures to distant lands.

As one reader pointed out a while back, “Hearing about all these different countries is great, but what about how banking is different on the east coast vs. west coast of the US and everywhere in between?”

The Most Common – and Wrong – Arguments

Many people claim that the pay and hours differ significantly and that New York is more “hardcore” than other regions.

That makes sense intuitively: New York is the biggest financial center and the biggest deals tend to happen there.

But in practice, these differences are greatly exaggerated – pay is standardized at the junior levels in finance and bonuses depend more on your bank and group rather than the city you’re in.

At the senior levels, geographic differences become more important because certain offices have better deal flow and clients, and senior bankers’ bonuses depend 100% on performance.

New York bankers like to argue that they work way more than people in other regions, but there are no scientifically controlled surveys to support these claims.

Yes, maybe the hours are somewhat worse since more deals happen there – but we’re talking a difference of 85 hours per week vs. 90 hours per week: you still won’t have a life.

So the more substantial differences have nothing to do with pay or hours, but rather the industries covered, the cost of living, and the exit opportunities.

And yes, I’ll address the ever-popular models/bottles, networking, and a few other points as well.

Industries Covered

This is the main difference – banks in the top 5 cities for finance in the US focus on a different industry:

There is no “best” because it depends on what you want to do in the future and how certain you are of your career.

Some of these fields are more specialized than others; something like oil & gas requires more specific knowledge than tech or healthcare since energy companies play by different rules and require different valuation methodologies.

So if you’re already interested in a specific industry, it may be a good idea to start out in the region that focuses on that industry – but if you have no idea yet, New York is the safest bet.

Just as actors get typecast, you will get more and more pigeonholed as you move up the ladder, so you need to consider these options carefully.

One friend worked on a telecom deal at a small VC firm, then got placed into the telecom group at a boutique bank, and was then placed into the telecom group at a bulge bracket bank.

Effectively, he became “the telecom guy” all because of one small deal he worked on ages ago.

And it’s even worse once you move beyond banking: good luck interviewing for that hedge fund that wants people with European telecom merger arbitrage experience if you don’t have any.

But What About Deal Flow?

“But,” you rightly point out, “There’s a difference between deal flow, hours, and industries covered – even if you’re working a lot, you might just be building pitch books all day. And what if your industry isn’t ‘hot’ at the moment?”

I don’t disagree with you there, but it’s almost impossible to determine deal flow of specific offices without talking to real people.

So if you’re such an overachiever that you’re going to pick your bank and group based on deal flow and exit opportunities, go talk to people at the different offices you’re considering and see what they say – but keep a critical eye open because they’re likely to oversell you on everything.

And no, I’m not going to rank cities and groups by deal flow here since that changes quite frequently and since you’re likely an obsessive-compulsive person already if you’re reading this.

Cost of Living

In ancient times, New York was the most expensive city in terms of real estate, taxes, food, and so on.

Now, however, San Francisco is actually more expensive, or at least as expensive, due to the tech boom and the number of high-paid startup employees there (as of 2015).

So you are not likely to save much money during the year in either place; it’s also a bad idea to live in New Jersey or another location outside the main city to save money, since you might go insane in what little free time you have.

The “cost of living” ranking looks something like this:

  • NYC ~= SF > LA > Chicago > Houston

You will save the most money working in Houston because Texas has no state income tax, rent is ridiculously cheap, bottles are less pricey, and even the models are less demanding and will give your wallet less of a workout.

Cost of living shouldn’t be your top concern, but you should be aware of it.

Finance people are notorious for making millions of dollars and then blowing it all on luxury spending – so pay attention if you want to retire on more than $50K in that savings account you forgot about.

One other note: driving will be required in most of these places, especially in a city like LA where there is no public viable transportation.

So if you hate driving and owning a car, your best bet is New York.

NOTE: Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are actually changing this dynamic.

If you live relatively close to the office, you might be able to take one of those to and from work every day and gain some peace of mind in the process.

Exit Opportunities

The main problem with exit opportunities is that it’s hard to interview when you’re far away.

You need to take time off work by using questionable excuses, hope people don’t notice your repeated absences, and then visit the firm enough times to seal the deal.

Since New York to SF or LA is a 5-6 hour trek, it’s not easy to hop from banking on one coast to the buy-side on the other coast. Pretty much all the analysts I knew in California stayed there, and pretty much all the ones in New York stayed on the east coast.

So you’re more likely to stay in your first region unless you can pull off in-person trips or interview entirely via video conference (unlikely for traditional exit opportunities).

Again, people like to argue that New York has “better” exit opportunities, but plenty of analysts on the west coast and elsewhere get into mega-funds as well; it’s just that they work at local offices rather than in NYC.

One legitimate difference is that there are more exit opportunities in New York just because it’s the biggest financial center.

And you also run into the pigeonholing problem if you start out in another region: go to Houston and you’ll more than likely recruit only for energy-focused PE firms and hedge funds.

If you’re in San Francisco, you’ll be more likely to recruit for tech-focused funds, or maybe even quit finance and join a tech startup.

But aside from those differences, the actual quality of exit opportunities doesn’t differ as much as you might expect.

Got Networking?

Networking opportunities are another more significant difference, and one that people overlook all the time.

Since NYC is much bigger than the other regions, you’ll simply meet more people there and you’ll be better equipped to network your way into other roles.

Just as with other financial centers like Hong Kong and London, sometimes half the people you meet in NYC will be in finance (the other half will be “aspiring” artists or models, which is great for you as a financier).

How much does the quality of networking really matter?

It depends how certain you are of your “career path” – if you’re interested in doing tech banking and then doing a venture capital career in California, you’re better off starting in SF and networking with tech and VC groups there.

But if you have no industry preference, you’ll gain more options by starting out in New York.

How to Satisfy the Models

Ah, now to the fun part.

The main difference is that the New York models tend to be higher-maintenance, more expensive, and more demanding; LA comes close since everyone is required to get plastic surgery, but you’ll still spend more overall in NYC.

But flashing around wads of cash also doesn’t impress as much in New York because $200K is barely middle class – not enough to satisfy models who are expecting a new bag every day.

In all seriousness, you really will spend a lot more money going out in New York if you actually enjoy it.

LA and SF can also be expensive, while Chicago and Houston are more reasonable. Some also argue that people in the South and Midwest are “friendlier” but I don’t want to get into a debate over that one.

I’m not qualified to comment on the quality of men in each place, other than to say that SF is probably the worst place to find hot guys unless you’re into tech guys with a ton of money from startups.

(Yes, a female friend recently asked if there were a lot of tall, muscular blonde guys in SF and I started laughing.)


“Aha,” you say, “But even if the pay and hours are not much different, surely they must ask completely different interview questions in each region, right?”

Sorry to disappoint, but no, not really.

No one sits down and says, “Well, in Chicago we should ask this specific set of questions but in Houston it will be completely different.”

Once again, the main difference comes down to the industry focus: you don’t need to be an expert on the industry of focus in each city, but you should know something about recent deals and any industry-specific valuation methodologies.

It’s not really “easier” or “harder” to get into finance in different cities – there are fewer spots outside of New York, but there’s also less competition.

Other Regions

Yes, there are banks in places besides NYC, Chicago, Houston, SF, and LA – but the offices tend to be much smaller and they don’t always recruit on-campus.

Other cities with a presence in finance include Boston (similar to SF due to the industry focus), Washington, DC (aerospace/defense), Atlanta (lots of wealth management), Miami (healthcare, Latin America), Dallas (got equities?) and maybe a few others.

I can’t recommend starting out in these places if you have the option to go to one of the 5 major centers listed above.

Maybe if you’re interested in only a very specific industry, like aerospace and defense, then DC makes sense – but you’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of deal flow and exit opportunities.

A lot of boutiques are also based in other regions, so you should jump at the opportunity if you have nothing lined up in a bigger city – but otherwise, stick to the top 5 above.

Outside of IB: Sales & Trading, Hedge Funds, and More

You run into the same differences in other fields like private equity, sales & trading, hedge funds, and asset management: a different industry focus and more geographically limited exit opportunities.

Some cities also tend to be stronger in certain fields.

For example, Chicago is great for prop trading and the SF Bay Area is the spot to be for venture capital.

One downside to any type of markets-based role such as trading or hedge funds is that you have to wake up very early if you’re on the west coast because you work New York market hours.

If you’re fine waking up at 4 AM, getting off work at 5 PM, and sleeping at 9 PM every night, you might be OK; if you’re not a morning person, though, you may want to stay away.

So, Where Should You Work?

If you have absolutely no idea what you want to do and don’t mind spending more money, New York is your best option – there’s more networking, more opportunities, bigger deals, and you don’t even have to drive.

But if you have a more specific goal such as going into VC, joining a tech startup, or working in the oil & gas industry, you could make a good argument for starting out in a different city.

There may be slight differences in pay, hours, and how much you save in your first year (with bigger differences on that last one), but those don’t matter much in the long-term.

To figure out which office has the best deal flow, network with bankers and ask directly – that information changes quickly and you’re always better off going straight to the source.

And whatever else happens, make sure you don’t end up doing equities in Dallas.

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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  1. I have heard that bankers in New York view bankers from other regions as not on the same level. Whether or not this is true or its just the New York bankers stroking their egos, I wanted to know if it is harder to move to/move BACK to New York for banking from another region given this thought by some or if it is all just crap?

    1. Yes, there is some truth to that, but it happens in all regions… bankers in the major financial centers (NY, London, HK) tend to look down on regional bankers. Yes, it’s generally harder to move from a smaller regional office into NY, but it’s definitely doable simply because the turnover rate is so high.

  2. Hi,

    I will be starting at a EB IBD role in a non-major city that recruited at my school. Don’t know anyone and can’t see myself staying long term, and was wondering if you had any advice on potentially transferring offices within a year or lateraling to a different city and how that would work while working IB hours. I will be at a top group on WS, any advice is appreciated.

    1. The general strategy here is to win support from a key senior person in your office and the office you want to move to. You also need to perform well and have a bit of luck in terms of the other office being busy and needing additional staff. So… try to work on deals that involve the other office in some way so you have an excuse to meet people there, see if you can set up a casual chat with one of the Directors or MDs, and keep performing well and making the senior bankers in your office happy. And then ask for a transfer maybe at around the 1 or 1.5-year mark.

  3. Hi Brian, can you tell me what Regional Investment Banking is? How is it different from traditional banking? E.g. JP M Regional Investment Banking coverage team.

    1. Regional teams generally cover smaller/more niche companies and work on smaller deals. Banks rarely put their best/most productive senior bankers on the regional teams. It can still be a good experience, but you run into the same issues as you do working in any regional office rather than NY/London (better lifestyle, potentially, but smaller/fewer deals and not as many exit opportunities).

  4. Brian I desperately need your help! I’m currently in my second year in Investment Banking at UBS in London. I moved to London 8 years ago to do my undergrad and masters and then after a brief attempt in Consulting I joined UBS. I’ve always flirted with a move to NY as I’ve grown increasingly bored with London (also Brexit is a concern) and being in my mid twenties I think it’s a good time for a move. I’ve recently visited LA though and fell in love with the city! I can certainly see myself living there but it would be a massive step for me. I’m still more interested in banking than PE/VC but scared of the implications in my career. I could potentially move with UBS to NY but I think it’s too similar to London (weather, corporate life etc). I want to join a US bank like MS if I move to LA. What do you think? Would really appreciate any advice!


    1. Banking is banking, and you’ll be in the office all day anyway, so I’m not sure if LA is much different besides the fact that transportation is more annoying. If you want to leave London, I would still recommend NY as the best place for IB in the US. A regional office might make more sense as you get older and want to have more of a life and stop caring as much about advancement. But NY is the best in terms of additional options at this stage.

  5. Avatar
    Toley Vick

    I am 23,graduate of Russian, residing in Nigeria. Investing and investment banks have always attracted me as I love human behavior and numbers.
    I plan to set up an investment company someday but would like to gain a five year experience and save up as much as possible.
    Considering the fact that I can’t afford a top school and I would like to do all these in the U. S and if worse comes to worst, Canada. What advice would you give me concerning my study and job prospects?

    1. I think you should get some work experience first and then plan your next moves. That means “leave Nigeria” and go to better-developed markets where it’s easier to find jobs. And then see if you can transfer to the US or Canada through a future job.

  6. Hi, I’m a rising sophomore and native Californian attending an Ivy and am interested in IB. I don’t have a major preference where I end up after school, but long-term I’d like to be back in the Bay Area. Being at an Ivy, recruiting for NY seems more feasible than recruiting for SF, but I don’t want to pigeonhole myself in NY. Is it feasible to transition from NY IBD to SF IBD/PE/etc or is it better to start in SF IBD after school, and how would I set myself up for SF IBD from an Ivy? Could I use SA in NY to pivot to FT in SF with same bank, or does that not make sense being that the SF bankers wouldn’t have seen my skills firsthand? Thanks!

    1. It is better/easier to work in SF IBD if you want to work in a buy-side role in SF afterward. If you want to do that, you just have to network more with bankers/alumni from SF, indicate an office preference for it, and probably make 1-2 weekend trips to the area to network. Switching locations after a summer internship tends to be difficult because your #1 goal must be to win an offer at a bank in a specific location. After return offers are given out, many people try to switch, but few people give up their spots, so the odds are against you.

  7. Avatar
    Joshua Donaldson

    Hi, im a senior in highschool and would like some advice on a good school to attend to become an investment banker. I live in Orange County, so I was thinking UCLA or USC but at this point I want to go to a school that will give me the best chance of getting a high paying job. Any help would be great.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I think both are credible schools. I’d look at schools on the East coast like Stern, Columbia, etc.

  8. Could you comment on how to go about transferring from a regional office to New York City as an IBD analyst?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      This is quite a broad question. I’d approach the New York office, make a few connections, and try to make a few trips down to NY. I’d tell the NY team your interest in their office and interview with them if the opportunity comes up.

  9. Excellent article. When you say that Atlanta has a lot of wealth management, is that synonyms with asset management (please excuse my ignorance)? What are the major private management firms in Atlanta?

    1. “Wealth management” tends to refer to managing money for high-net-worth individuals, whereas “asset management” usually refers to the institutional level. So they are quite different. But you have to be careful because people conflate the terms, use them incorrectly, and mix them up, so you have to read to see what they’re referring to. Not sure about the major firms in Atlanta, but I imagine you could find the main firms with Google searches.

  10. Is there a lot of private equity in Dallas, or is Houston better for that?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I am not 100% sure, perhaps Houston maybe better but I’d leave this to readers.

  11. Awesome! Its genuinely amazing piece of writing, I have got much clear idea regarding from this article.

    1. Thanks for reading!

  12. I think you need to update the part where you say that New York is more expensive than any of the other cities by a long shot. SF is now more expensive than New York.

    1. Updated for that and a few other points (as of 2015).

      I still wouldn’t say that SF is universally “more expensive” than NYC if you factor in the total cost of everything there, but it is fair to say that it’s *as* expensive as NYC now.

      1. I have lived in both my friend. SF is more that NYC and La is cheaper. NYC is where you want to be.

        1. And I’ve lived in all those places and more (Tokyo, Seoul, Sydney, Melbourne, Helsinki, London, Buenos Aires, and probably more I’m forgetting) so I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove… housing is more in SF, yes, but if you look at everything together, I’m not sure the difference is huge. Yes, LA is cheaper.

  13. Do all the bulge-brackets have M&A in Miami? Or is it mostly just wealth management? How does the pay in wealth management compare to M&A?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Some do but I think mostly in wealth management, I am not 100% sure to be honest. I believe pay in M&A, in general, will be higher but then again it depends on the firm and individual performance. This link maybe useful:

  14. Are there job opportunities from bulge bracket banks in places like Dallas or San Deigo?

    1. *diego

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes, and I believe they have a decent wealth management arm at the cities you listed.

  15. Avatar
    Jacob Woodring

    Why does he say to avoid doing equities in Dallas?

  16. Yes, a female friend recently asked if there were a lot of tall, muscular blonde guys in SF and I started laughing.)

    Must be an asian female

  17. Thanks for prompt response Nicole.

    How about asset management cities in US (is LA in the top position besides NY)? I would love to study and stay in US. So what is target MBA for these cities?

    For London, how is job prospect (in the asset management industry) compared to other financial centers in US?

    Many thanks and Merry Christmas!!!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      NY – Stern, Columbia, Harvard, Penn, Cornell
      LA – UCLA has a decent program, so does UCB.
      London – I am not 100% sure though I think US maybe doing slightly better.
      Merry Christmas to you too

      1. Thanks again,

        Could you list several top cities in US for Asset Management career? (I would appreciate if you could list them in order from Best to Worst, my guess is NY>LA>SF>Chicago>Houston>>>>Boston>Washington?)

        Best wishes from me :)

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          I’d say NY, Boston, Chicago, LA, SF, Washington though readers may have better insights. It also depends on your background and firms’ hiring needs, which change.

          1. Is Houston not good for AM?

          2. I wouldn’t say “bad,” just smaller than other places. It’s better for energy investment banking since most firms have their teams there.

  18. Hi,

    It is such a nice article. SF is best for Venture Captial, so what is the best regions (I would appreciate you can give several names in order) for Asset Management career path? Also, what is the target MBA programs for these regions?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      For AM, there are multiple cities internationally, I’d say NY, HK, Singapore, London.

      Target MBAs – Harvard, Stanford, Penn, Stern, Columbia, Cornell Business School (for AM, not for others as much), LBS

    2. Boston is great at AM (Fidelity, Bain).

  19. Got an interesting issue here I’m interested in getting some feedback on.

    I just finished up playing 4 years a of college sports at the University of Southern Cal. I’m working at a buy-side advisory firm in Orange County on behalf of several decent size middle market private equity funds. I get a lot of freedom at this company, as it is boutique, and I have the unique experience of being able to source my own deals at 23 years old. However, the company is very old fashioned and not as efficiently as managed as it really should be. Analysts and Associates are underpaid, because we refuse to raise our client’s retainer, so everything remains status quo. I am a super Type A guy who just spent the last four years of his life waking up at 4:30 in the morning to lift weights, then attend class, practice, and attend tutoring sessions until 11 P.M. every night, only to wake up and do it again the next day. That being said, this inefficiency bugs me to no end and being that I am low on the totem pole, I am smart enough to voice my opinion between the office walls.
    So for the dilemma–I eventually will want to attend a top-tier business school and specialize in finance, as a money manager–say PIMCO–would be my ideal end game. Given my credentials, history, and prior dealings with college athletics, I am more than capable than selling myself in an interview, and could honestly go to many more places where I could be paid more at your typical bulge bracket IB or wealth management companies, but this ability to source my own deals at the age of 23 is so hard to walk away from.

    Is this opportunity that unique?? Or are there plenty of other places where I can do similar M&A advisory work and still be able to control my own deals at such a young age. Thanks for your feedback.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes there maybe other boutiques which allow you to do similar type of work and to control your own deals. You may want to explore that. I’d encourage you to speak with people in the industry and gain some insight.

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