From Big 4 Restructuring to Investment Banking: How to Make the Leap
“Help! I hate my accounting job and want to move into banking, what do I do?”
“What group should I transfer to if I want to get into finance?”
“My Big 4 salary doesn’t give me enough cash for bottles!”
If you’re at a Big 4 firm right now, you’ve had one of the thoughts above before – maybe multiple times.
We covered how to move from accounting to investment banking before, but this time around there’s a different twist – an interview with a reader who moved from a Big 4 restructuring group to investment banking.
Here’s how he made the leap, and how you can do the same:
Background & Culture
Q: Let’s start with your background – how’d you end up at the Big 4 firm, and what did you do before that?
A: Sure. I actually started out as an athlete, and played at the college level for a few years before I got a serious injury that ended my career.
Then, I transferred to a smaller and lesser-known school in the Midwest, and got more interested in finance once I knew that being a professional athlete was no longer an option.
The investment banking industry is smaller in the Midwest, but there are still a few local banks there and they were doing a lot of distressed M&A deals for the auto industry, so I started contacting them and asking about internships each week.
After a ton of networking, one bank finally caved in and decided that they needed an intern – so I joined and got to help out with a few live deals there.
As graduation approached, I continued networking and found a few guys who used to work at a very well-known PE firm.
They had just started a lower middle-market fund just for family/small-business investments, and they needed some analysis done on Project Finance-type investments (power plants and such). I volunteered to do the modeling for that, and they were impressed with my work and turned it into a full-time internship.
Since I had so much experience in restructuring, I went to a restructuring group at a Big 4 firm after my internship at the middle-market PE fund. I stayed there for around a year, and then recently moved to a bulge bracket bank.
Q: That’s a great story – before we jump into it in more detail, I think a lot of readers might wonder what it’s like working at a Big 4 firm in their restructuring group.
We’ve covered the work and culture in IB and PE before, so how would you say the Big 4 firm compared to those?
A: There was definitely a skill set overlap – we did lots of cash flow modeling, presentations to lenders, and distressed M&A deals where we advised the company on selling, restructuring, or bankruptcy options. We also worked with the big auto companies, so you got good exposure to their finance teams.
The financial modeling and deal skills were similar, but there was a big cultural difference because we only worked on 1-2 projects at once and the hours were very, very tame. I only worked on one weekend, and a “late night” was staying to 8 or 9 PM.
Q: Why do you think there’s that cultural difference? Deals are still deals, so I don’t understand how you could “choose” to be less busy if you’re working with Fortune 500 clients all the time.
A: It’s mostly because financial advisory services were a very small part of what the firm did. At an M&A boutique bank, 100% of revenue comes from advisory, but at this Big 4 firm advisory accounted for maybe 2% of revenue.
Their focus was accounting/audit and consulting – they had investment banking and restructuring services, but they were an afterthought next to everything else there.
Q: OK, so it sounds like they consciously chose not to take on as much business as they could have since it wasn’t their core focus.
Obviously you did well moving into banking from restructuring, but what other groups would be good if you wanted to make the Big 4 to IB move?
A: As you’ve mentioned before, Transaction Advisory Services (TAS) can be good since you get exposed to bankers in some scenarios.
But I don’t think it’s necessarily the best group all the time because many TAS groups focus on accounting and due diligence, and you may not get exposed to valuation, financial modeling, or other aspects of the deal. They may also spend a lot of time on tasks that bankers don’t care about, such as making sure that working capital requirements are met when a deal closes.
So I would recommend looking at the internal middle-market banks that all Big 4 firms have – they do mostly sell-side advisory, and while it’s not comparable to the experience you’d get at a real bank, it’s closer than most other groups at the Big 4. Here are links to each firm’s internal bank:
- Deloitte – Corporate Finance
- KPMG – Corporate Finance
- PricewaterhouseCoopers – Corporate Finance & Investment Banking Services
- Ernst & Young – Transactions
And then anything transaction-related – like the restructuring group I was in – could work as well.
Networking & Interviews
Q: Can you talk about the networking you did to get the bulge bracket offer? What was the best source for finding contacts and meeting bankers?
A: Keep in mind that I had been networking all along, ever since I got my original internship via aggressive cold-calling.
So it was just continuing what I had already started – I took the Big 4 offer knowing that I still wanted to move into banking and would have to continue networking.
It was difficult to find bankers at first because few alumni worked in finance, I didn’t have co-workers I could reliably ask, and headhunters were useless unless you had at least some full-time work experience.
Q: So where did you find bankers if not through the usual sources like your alumni database?
A: A couple ways:
- High School Contacts – Even though my university had few alumni in finance, there were quite a lot from my high school who worked in the industry.
- Random Online Contact – I would just go through LinkedIn and look up bankers in the Midwest and start reaching out them like that.
- Cold-Calling/Emailing – This is how I got my first internship. It’s time-consuming and has a low hit rate, but it does work.
- Upscale Gyms – I joined a few higher-end gyms in my area and ran into a bunch of financiers there. I met a few bankers, people in private wealth management, management and turnaround consultants, and even a PE Partner like that.
All of that helped, but the most helpful thing for me was always asking, “I’m interviewing with this group / interested in this area – do you know anyone else I could speak with?”
I got tons of referrals with that line at the end of each call or meeting. It sounds very simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people are too afraid to make simple requests in a conversation.
Q: I really like the tip about upscale gyms; it reminds me of Gordon Gekko playing racquetball.
So it sounds like your networking was pretty similar to what we’ve covered here before with getting names and contact information, setting up informational interviews, and then following up aggressively.
How did you spin your resume when you were applying, since the Big 4 firm was your only full-time experience?
A: I actually downplayed the Big 4 experience, because I felt my banking internship and my work at the middle-market PE fund were both more relevant. So I focused on those and described my transaction experience using the template you’ve suggested before.
For my Big 4 experience, I focused on the valuation and modeling work and left out anything that was closer to accounting/audit.
Even though I had worked in restructuring there, I was interested in moving to industry or M&A groups in investment banking, so I didn’t want to make myself look too specialized by writing 100% about restructuring or distressed deals.
Q: That makes sense, and it’s great advice for anyone who has worked in a more specialized group and wants to move elsewhere.
What about the interviews themselves? Were they mostly technical or deal experience-focused?
A: They focused a lot on my deal experience – and more my experience at the bank and PE firm rather than in my restructuring group.
There were technical questions, but they were more curious about why certain deals happened, potential complications, and what I thought of the valuation and the process for different companies.
For some of the industry groups, a key question was “Why this industry?” They get a lot of people who don’t know why they want to work with financial institutions or industrial companies or whatever they cover.
Q: We covered a few possible answers to that one before, but what did you say?
A: In my final year of university I had completed a finance course where we valued companies in different industries, so I used that as my “spark” to show them how I got interested at first.
It didn’t work for every industry group, but by using that I could at least talk about my interest in the more common ones, like energy, financial institutions, and industrials.
I also used a few of your industry-specific modeling courses to demonstrate my interest and they were really impressed with that, since hardly anyone else had gone to the effort of completing entire case studies on these companies.
Q: I’m surprised by that one, because we generally tell customers that the industry-specific courses are more helpful once you’re already working – but you found them useful for interviews as well?
And these were lateral interviews at the top bulge bracket banks – even there most other interviewees still hadn’t done as much as preparation as you might expect.
Q: Well, glad to hear the courses were helpful!
It seems like the interview process was straightforward for you, but I’m sure bankers had at least a few “objections” to your background. What were the key issues, and how did you overcome them?
A: Their main concern was that my academic experience looked very spotty.
I had taken a year off after I got my injury back in college, and then had to enroll in another school and ended up missing another semester, so it looked like I had taken forever to graduate and had been to school twice.
Some bankers just focused on that for 100% of the interview – they asked about all my gaps in education and why I had gone to schools they never heard of.
I answered those questions by explaining that for my first 2 years in university, I was practicing constantly, still doing well in school, and working 1-2 part-time jobs at the same time. So I spun a negative into a positive, and pointed out that I was working crazy hours a good portion of the time and could therefore handle the hours of a bulge bracket bank.
And then I also had my previous IB and PE internships, so they weren’t too concerned by the end.
What If? And the Future
Q: Since you had those internships, you had 100% relevant experience when applying to larger banks.
But what advice would you give someone who’s at a Big 4 firm in some other role, like audit? What should they do if they have no transaction experience and want to get into IB?
A: First, get out of audit immediately. Do something – anything – more stimulating.
People make fun of investment banking for being mindless work, but in my opinion audit is even worse because it’s so mundane.
At least with deals, you witness drama as different buyers and sellers express interest, back out, make different proposals, and negotiate. In audit you’re staring at numbers all day unless you happen to uncover the next Enron.
Most Big 4 firms are fine with internal transfers – it’s often easier than it is at a bank. Sometimes the Partner you’re working for may take it personally, but that depends on your group.
You should reach out to the other group you’re interested in first, contact people there, and make sure they know what you’re interested in doing before you even run the idea by your current boss.
The Big 4 firms all have lots of events and internal mixers where professionals in different areas can meet each other, so it’s easier to get to know other groups than it would be in IB – most people don’t work more than 50-60 hours per week, so they have the time to help you.
You really have no excuse not to move to a group that’s more closely related to banking – I would recommend restructuring, valuation, internal M&A, and TAS as your best options.
Q: It’s interesting to hear that the internal transfer may be easier at Big 4 firms, but I guess the culture is just more relaxed across the board.
So now that you’ve won this bulge bracket offer, what’s next for you? Will you stay at your new bank for some time, or are you thinking about moving to the buy-side?
A: Unlike most other bankers, I’m actually interested in staying in IB for the long-term.
Back when I was interviewing for this role, a number of distressed investment funds also approached me, but I wasn’t interested in PE back then and I’m not interested now, either.
My key issue is that you must put your own money to work to progress in PE.
It’s not just Partners investing the fund’s capital – they also put in their own funds, so a poor investment could wipe out a good chunk of your personal savings.
Yes, the pay ceiling is higher and you could make mind-boggling money – but let’s be honest, at the MD/Partner-level, the average is about the same in both industries. The outliers in PE make far more, but for me the risk isn’t worth it.
The other issue is that private equity is much less of a team environment than banking, and coming from an athletic background I enjoy working in teams more than the solo work that you see in PE.
Q: That makes a lot of sense, and that point you raised about putting your own money to work is a great one that often goes overlooked. Thanks again for taking the time out to chat, I learned a lot!
A: You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.
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How to Dominate Your Industry-Specific Interviews: Real Estate, Energy, FIG, and More
You’ve applied to over 100 banks, networked with 230 bankers, and have been pounding the pavement since August.
And now you’ve lined up 10 first round interviews, most of which are for the M&A and generalist pools.
But then you notice that you’re also set to interview with a mysterious FIG (Financial Institutions Group) banker, followed by 2 oil & gas bankers from the Houston office.
And who knows, maybe you’ll land a real estate, mining, airlines, or healthcare interview to make things more fun as well.
So how will it be different? And how can you get up to speed on all the accounting and valuation differences, recent deals, and everything else if you only have a few days – or a few hours – to prepare?
Everyone lumps investment bankers together, but that’s not really how banks operate.
Banks have product groups that focus on specific deal types – M&A, Leveraged Finance, Equity Capital Markets, and so on – and then industry groups that do all sorts of deals – but all within a specific industry, such as technology, industrials, healthcare, financial institutions, energy, real estate, and so on.
At a bank, you might interview specifically for one of the product groups, or you might interview for one of the industry groups – or you might just interview for a “generalist” position, be placed in the generalist pool, and then select your group later on.
Most investment banking interview guides focus on standard questions that you might get in any group.
But there are important differences when you interview with specific industry groups – so let’s get started with the festivities.
Most of the Time…
Interviews are not dramatically different – if you’re interviewing with a FIG banker, he’s not going to say, “Since this is FIG I want you to build a detailed model and valuation for Citi right now – you have 30 minutes.”
You still need to know the standard “fit” and technical questions, and you will still get questions on those.
Industry-specific interviews require you to shift your answers rather than come up with completely new ones.
How to Shift Your Answers
Focus on these 4 questions (or categories of questions, as in the last case):
- Why This Group?
- Tell Me About the Industry
- Tell Me About a Recent Deal in This Industry
- Industry-Specific Technical Questions
The first 3 are not terribly difficult as long as you’re prepared – the technical questions can be more problematic, but there are ways to get up to speed quickly.
Why This Group?
Answer this one by linking it to something in your background: a school project, an internship, someone you met while networking, family, friends, and so on.
Let’s say that all your experience has been as an engineer in the technology industry and there’s no obvious reason why you’d want to work in an oil & gas group.
But maybe you have a distant relative who is in the business, or maybe one of your friends started working at a big energy company recently – you can take something small like that, spin it, and turn it into a “I had always been interested in tech, and still am, but recently I started talking to [Person Name], who made me really interested in energy…” story.
If you don’t have something specific in your background, you could always talk about industry news or recent deal activity making you more interested.
Once you’ve established this spark, give 1-2 solid reasons why you want to work in the group after someone or something made you interested.
Going back to the energy example, you could talk about how it affects not only everyone and every economy in the world, but also geopolitics. You could also talk about being interested in promising but controversial technologies like hydraulic fracturing and how quickly the industry is changing due to rising energy demand in emerging markets.
They don’t expect you to be the next T. Boone Pickens – they just want to hear something intelligent from you.
Do not attempt to BS something on the spot here – and don’t say something silly like, “I’m interested… because… it’s so interesting!” (yes, I’ve heard that one before)
Tell Me About the Industry
It’s easy to go “off the rails” and ramble with this type of question.
Use the following structure to describe an industry:
1. Give an estimate of the total market size if you can get it, and say whether it’s growing, mature, or declining. Also mention a dominant recent trend.
Example for FIG: “Financial services are the biggest industry on the S&P 500, so it’s a huge market in the US – it is relatively mature, though there are pockets of growth in some areas such as risk management. The major issue in the industry, especially post-financial crisis, is regulation and how capital requirements for banks will change in the future.”
2. Next, sum up the major players and the sub-industries in 1-2 sentences. Most industries have a few global, diversified companies that do everything and then have smaller companies that focus on more specific segments.
Example for FIG: “It’s split into segments such as commercial banking, insurance, investment banks, wealth management, and investment firms. A couple huge banks, such as BNP Paribas, RBS, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and JP Morgan, operate in all these segments, while there are also more specialized firms like Goldman Sachs that may focus on just one or only a few of these segments.”
3. Close with a recent trend or recent news in the industry. This shows that you’ve been keeping up with deal activity and reading the WSJ, DealBook, and other news sources.
Example for FIG: “Recently as banks have been recovering from the financial crisis, everyone is thinking about new regulation and the adoption of Basel III – that will have a big impact on banks’ capital structures, how they do business, and how they issue dividends.”
Bankers don’t expect you to know everything, but they do expect you to have done some research – otherwise you won’t seem interested and they’ll give the offer to someone else.
Where Do You Find This Information?
Now I’m going to save you 10 hours of time spent frantically searching online by sharing these resources:
- PricewaterhouseCoopers M&A Industry Insights
- PricewaterhouseCoopers Industry Research
- Deloitte Industry Research
Yes, you read that correctly: Big 4 firms like PwC and Deloitte regularly publish industry and M&A research for free.
Some of the reports on those sites are too specific to be helpful – the “Outlook” or “Overview” ones for entire industries are the best.
But that’s the best way to get this information quickly assuming that you don’t have access to Capital IQ, Factset, or other tools that bankers have.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, Google searches for [Industry Name] + M&A or + “Market Size” also work, but take longer.
You can also look in industry-specific publications like the Oil & Gas Journal – but they’re more useful for researching deals rather than industry trends.
Tell Me About a Recent Deal
M&A deals are the best ones to discuss and the easiest to find information on, so here’s the structure you should use:
- Name the buyer, seller, purchase price, and multiples.
- Give background information – what does the buyer do? What does the seller do? How much revenue and EBITDA do they have (or other metric if those are not relevant, e.g. total assets for a bank)?
- Explain how the deal came together if it’s public knowledge, and why both parties were motivated to get it done.
- Conclude by summarizing what Wall Street thinks about the deal, and how the industry will be affected in the future.
Let’s say you’re looking for information on the Intel – McAfee deal for a technology group interview. Do a Google search for “wsj intel mcafee deal profile” and you get the deal profile page as the first result.
Most of the information is right there: Intel, the huge semiconductor company, was the buyer, McAfee, a security software company, was the seller. It was an all-cash deal worth $7.68 billion, with an EBITDA multiple of 17x and revenue multiple of 3x (rounding multiples is less controversial than rounding your GPA).
This one’s not a great example because the profile doesn’t list anything besides the numbers – but if you do a few searches you can find other articles on how most investors were scratching their heads at the deal – there were no obvious synergies and it came as a surprise to everyone.
The official rationale was so that Intel could target more of the mobile chip market and get into network security, but few others thought it made sense.
Going forward, more companies might start to focus on security for mobile devices and solutions that protect everything from desktops to laptops and mobile devices to web-based applications.
But What About…
If you’re having trouble finding recent deals, look in the M&A reports from Big 4 firms I linked to above; simple Google searches for “[Industry Name] biggest M&A deals” can also give you names at the very least.
If the WSJ and searching online don’t give you good results, you could take another approach and find equity research instead.
Yes, you can find this research without working at a bank: just sign up for a TD Ameritrade account and you can get free Credit Suisse reports on most large companies.
Other brokerage accounts can work as well – Scottrade, for example, also offers free research.
So if you can’t find analysis of a deal in the WSJ, find equity research on the buyer or seller just after the deal was announced and look up the multiples, numbers, and rationale there.
If you can’t find relevant metrics, just get the purchase price for the deal and get the financial metrics yourself by looking at the acquired company’s annual report on their investor relations site.
You’ll find conflicting reports on technical questions for specific industry groups: some interviewees claim that they’re uncommon, while others (especially in Canadian mining groups) claim that interviews can be extremely technical.
So there is no universal rule – the only generalizations that apply are:
- It’s good to be familiar with the basics and the high-level view of how companies in the industry are different.
- Some industries are more different than others. Financial institutions (banks and insurance firms) are by far the most different compared to normal companies; oil, gas, and mining are also different but less so than financial institutions, and REITs are also different but less so than banks.
Technology, consumer, and retail are the most “normal” industries because they have straightforward business models; others like healthcare, industrials, and utilities are not quite “standard” but are also far less different than the 3 groups above.
Here’s a quick run-down of what you should know for the “most different” industries:
- Banks / FIG: Understand how they’re different (balance sheet-centric, loan portfolio drives everything, traditional metrics like EBITDA are meaningless because Interest is Revenue for a bank); also know how valuation differs (P / E and P / BV multiples and the Dividend Discount Model) and why regulation and regulatory capital are important.
- Oil & Gas / Mining: Understand how they’re different (balance sheet-centric, energy/mineral production drives everything, can’t control prices or revenue); also know how valuation differs (Production and Reserves multiples and the NAV model).
- Real Estate / REITs: Understand how modeling individual properties is different from REITs; know the key metrics and multiples like FFO and AFFO and key lingo such as NOI and cap rates and how the business model works.
I can’t list every single industry here because I just don’t know enough personally – but most other industries have much smaller differences, such as slightly different metrics and multiples and revenue or expense projections.
For example, an Internet company might project revenue based on unique visitors and conversion rates rather than # of products sold to customers; a key metric might be EV / Unique Visitors, especially if it’s unprofitable.
Resources for Technical Question Prep
Everything useful I’ve found is listed below:
- Banks / FIG: Damodaran – Valuing Financial Services Firms, Updated Version, Bank Balance Sheet Overview – Bionic Turtle
- Natural Resources: Oil & Gas Company Valuations – HFBE (This is fantastic), Damodaran – Valuing Commodity and Cyclical Companies
- Real Estate: Definitions of Key Terms, REIT Overview, FFO and AFFO
- Airlines: Financial Models
- Company Models in Different Industries (Banks, Energy, Industrials, Insurance, Retail)
And then there are good old books, but you probably don’t have time for that if it’s 3 AM right now and your interview is at 9 tomorrow.
Models & Models (and Interview Guides)
If you want to learn these concepts in more depth, you can also check out the Breaking Into Wall Street Bank & Financial Institution Modeling course (based on JP Morgan), the Oil & Gas Modeling course (based on the $41B Exxon Mobil – XTO deal), and the Real Estate & REIT Modeling course (based on AvalonBay, a multi-family REIT).
These are not introductory-level courses. If you cannot build a 3-statement LBO model easily, stay away because these are both more complex than even the Advanced Modeling course.
And before you ask, if you’re in Canada or Australia, mining is 95% the same as oil & gas and lessons specifically on mining will be added in the future.
That’s how industry-specific interviews are different, the key questions and concepts to focus on, and how to do the research necessary to answer the new questions you might get.
If you have any other good resources for these groups and these types of interviews, post a comment below and I’ll add it.
And if you actually made it to the end of this one, congrats – hopefully you don’t have too many questions, but ask away if you do.
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Investment Banking: Pakistan Edition
But this is such a good interview and has such specific information that I wanted to publish it anyway.
Plus, the interviewee has been a long-time reader of M&I and captured the personality of the site very well. So let’s get started and learn all about banking, PE, recruiting, and the lifestyle in an emerging market that might be completely off your radar.
Q: Can you tell us about your background?
A: I play the drums. I love buffalo wings with sour cream and ginger ale. I love stargazing. I’m a huge Tolkien fan. I find jazz very relaxing. I just discovered a hidden passion for photography and hopefully I’ll be traveling to Iceland in a few months after I buy a Canon DSLR.
I was born in Abu Dhabi and raised in Dubai. My father retired from his marketing job and we moved to Islamabad (Pakistan’s capital), where I completed high school and undergrad. I was a very distracted student during my O/A Levels because I really didn’t know why I was studying and what I wanted to do, so I definitely lacked direction for a time.
But during the first year of my undergraduate, I got really interested in corporate finance and M&A – so I actually performed decently and did much better than in high school.
After graduating, I networked my way into an investment banking analyst position at a bulge bracket bank in Karachi (Pakistan’s finance capital), and then I moved into private equity in the same city.
Q: Most Westerners know very little about Pakistan aside from what’s reported (accurately or inaccurately) in the news. What is the country really like, and how is the finance industry there different? Are the rumors of economic collapse / bankruptcy true?
A: A recent Newsweek cover described Pakistan as “The World’s Bravest Nation” – after describing it 3 years earlier as “The World’s Most Dangerous Nation.” I know the general perception is that it’s a country filled with corruption, religious fundamentalism, and no roads or women.
There is an element of truth to those claims, but for the most part we’re just regular people and most of what you read about in the news corresponds to a very small part of the country.
So don’t believe everything you read about the claims above (especially the part on roads and women) or the frequent accusations of terrorism – there are isolated extremists here but they are not representative of Pakistan at large.
Economically, we were always an underdeveloped country due to corruption from previous governments – but during Musharraf’s 10-year rule we were elevated to “developing country”status. Since that time the rulers have been questionable, so the progress has been disappointing since then.
The rumors of economic collapse are untrue. We’re not in the best shape right now, but we’re far from bankruptcy – the US and its allies also have too much of a stake in the country to let a bankruptcy happen. And we’re part of an IMF program that has pledged billions to us over the next 3-4 years.
Overall finance is still very much in a growth phase here, and private equity is at a nascent stage; Islamic finance is developing rapidly and corporate finance is also thriving. Hedge funds don’t exist yet, but many banks do have investment banking divisions and a handful of research and brokerage houses here offer investment banking and related services.
Q: What’s different about recruiting there? Do they prefer certain backgrounds or certifications?
A: The recruiting process for both IB and PE is highly unstructured.
Unlike the US or Europe where certain “paths” are preferred, here you can transition from almost any finance-related field into IB or PE.
I know people who have gotten into investment banking from industry, management consulting, and research, and people who have gotten into PE from Transaction Advisory Services, research, middle office trading support roles, and corporate banking.
My VP (from the US) would always tell this analyst at my bank that the CFA was completely useless in banking, but in Pakistan people have been conditioned into believing that a CFA + an accounting degree is the key to achieving unprecedented glory.
Wheeling & Dealing
Q: You were at a bulge bracket bank there – do the other global bulge bracket banks have presences in Pakistan, or are local firms more common?
A: It’s a mix of both. JP Morgan has been here since the early 90’s, Citi even earlier than that, and Credit Suisse has been here since 2008. UBS and BoAML operate through local affiliates, but aren’t officially here.
Even though they’re bulge bracket banks, they usually work on deals worth around $100 million USD – sizable for here but small by US standards.
M&I Note: Middle market banks in the US would do deals of this size; most bulge brackets focus on $500M+ or $1B+ deals, though they do occasionally go lower depending on the market.
Since that’s “the bar” for bulge bracket banks, smaller, local firms – called “investment houses” – advise on deals worth less than $100 million USD.
They offer everything from research to mutual funds to M&A advisory and capital raising. Two of the largest investment houses also have consumer and corporate banking divisions that they use for syndications.
Pure-play boutique investment banks are still very rare here – off the top of my head I know of just one firm that offers only M&A advisory and restructuring services to clients.
Q: What types of deals and companies are most common in Pakistan?
A: The breakout for deal types is something like this:
- Debt Financing: 70%
- IPOs: 15%
- M&A: 10%
- Restructuring: 5%
M&A is most common in the banking and telecom sectors. Here’s a table of M&A activity from 2002 – 2010 that I’ve been updating from time to time:
M&A in Pakistan rarely takes place to create value – this consolidation in the banking sector is driven by regulatory requirements (specifically higher capital adequacy requirements).
The actual rationale for M&A activity would be more interesting to look at – in my opinion it’s something like the following:
- Regulatory: 65%
- Gain Market Share: 20%
- Divesting Operations or Exiting from Pakistan: 10%
- Private Equity Investment: 5%
- Value Creation: 0%
The government also has a massive privatization program in place (the numbers above exclude this, by the way) and so all the bulge brackets submit RFPs (Requests for Proposals) to the Privatization Commission for each deal.
Even some banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and UBS that don’t have a direct presence in Pakistan will fly in, submit their RFPs, pitch, and fly out – they’re known as “parachute bankers.”
Some local firms also work on these privatization transactions, while the bulge bracket banks focus more on attracting institutional investors via road shows or finding international buyers for assets that the government is divesting.
Here are lists of completed and upcoming privatization transactions in Pakistan:
Q: You mentioned how you networked into investment banking and then into private equity – how is it different in Pakistan? Do informational interviews and cold calls still work?
A: Right, so just to give you a brief overview first of how I networked my way in:
I went to a non-target school, but I did have 5 internships and decent extracurricular activities, as well as the resume template on your site. And I knew a lot about investment banking and private equity and kept up with global M&A deals and private equity activity via the NY Times Dealbook site.
A year before my graduation, I cold-called the bulge bracket bank I worked at – they’re known for only hiring summer interns from top US and UK schools, so it was a bold move.
A man picked up and I asked to speak to someone regarding summer internship opportunities in investment banking – the guy replied with, “I’m the guy” and he turned out to be my future VP.
I asked about the recruiting process for summer internships and he said they had already gotten started with interviews – but to email my resume anyway so he could send it to the team.
I did that, and about an hour later he replied and said, “When will you be able to join us for an internship?”
Q: Wait a minute, so you actually got an internship just by cold-calling a bulge bracket and asking for one?
A: Far from it, though that’s what I actually thought at the time – I didn’t even get an interview. I think he was just asking that to see when I would be free for an internship rather than actually giving me one on the spot.
He said they really liked my resume but were looking for a winter intern, which didn’t work for me timing-wise due to classes.
Over the next 5-6 months, I stayed in touch, emailed him on his birthday a la Bud Fox, added him on LinkedIn, and even sent the occasional random link.
Q: So you actually pinged him consistently – that’s interesting because I usually tell readers NOT to worry about constantly staying in touch and to focus more on making a good first impression and then asking for what they want when the time comes.
A: Right – you do have to be subtle if you want to take this approach. I didn’t want to give the impression that I was stalking him or wanted to be his best friend.
I did this more because I had an uphill battle given my school and background, and because there just aren’t as many banks in Pakistan – so it’s not like the US where you could easily go through hundreds or thousands of contacts to find the most helpful bankers.
Q: So what was the final outcome here?
A: In May I called him again, sent him my updated resume and “reiterated my interest” for an investment banking analyst position.
Despite being up against 100+ candidates from target schools, I was interviewed and offered the position.
What worked in my favor?
- I was myself and had the ability to laugh at myself – I didn’t act like some super-genius with perfect grades who claimed to know everything about finance.
- I had a burning desire to get into investment banking – I read everything and anything related to banking that I could find and this came across with how much I knew about the industry vs. the other candidates.
Q: What about your move into private equity? Did you go through a headhunter there or was that also networking?
A: Networking, once again. I cold-called my current PE firm’s Dubai office and spoke to a Partner there – we chatted about how Dubai has changed over the years and about the Middle East PE market in general.
I sent my resume, he forwarded it to the Partner in Karachi, and I interviewed a couple times and was offered the position.
M&I Note: This may seem ridiculous, but keep in mind that in certain parts of the world they are looking for very specific people and recruiting is less structured. It would be tough to pull off the scenario above in the US, but the same is not true in emerging markets.
Q: So it sounds like overall, the standard networking strategies still work and may even work better since recruiting is so unstructured in Pakistan.
You mentioned before how knowing so much about investment banking gave you a big advantage – but doesn’t everyone coming out of target schools there know the industry quite well?
A: No! A lot of students from top schools have absolutely no idea what investment banking or private equity are.
I’ve interviewed candidates from top schools here and this is how interviews often go:
- Me: What do you think investment bankers do?
- Interviewee: They make investments so that you get higher returns.
- Me: Higher returns… um, ok, and why do you want to get into investment banking?
- Interviewee: I’ve heard really good things about investment banking and [Interviewee inserts objective from his/her resume and “pitches” it] and how much I can learn there and bring my skills to the organization.
- Me: Right, we’ll let you know.
One time I had a PE candidate try to convince me that he was a “private equity investor” because he invested in the stock market.
I’ve come across only one candidate who made a convincing argument for why he/she should work in investment banking or private equity. And I’ve met hardly anyone else who has networked his/her way into IB or PE here like I did.
But as you can see from my story, it’s definitely possible – if you’re hungry and motivated, you can do pretty much anything.
Private Iniquity, Pay, and Exit Opps
Q: Not to sound like those annoying kids in Harold & Kumar, but what’s it like working for a PE firm there? What types of companies do you invest in, and is your job more about sourcing or execution?
A: Work is very unpredictable, which makes the hours unpredictable as well. I’ve pulled all-nighters, and I’ve found that there is a massive cultural difference / work ethic difference between local firms and international firms.
PE firms here do not focus on specific sectors – they’ll invest in anything from green/brownfield projects to mature companies and even distressed assets.
LBOs are highly uncommon here and so most of these investments are minority stake acquisitions instead.
Work is a function of sourcing and execution – I’d say I spend 20% of my time on sourcing (looking for new investments) and 80% on execution (doing due diligence, modeling for investments, and coordinating our team).
Q: As with other emerging markets, I’m assuming that salaries and bonuses are lower on an absolute scale but higher on a relative basis if you take into account the cost of living – is that accurate?
A: Yes, definitely true. In a good year, an analyst at a local firm can make 10 to 15 times his monthly pay with his bonus (around 80% to 125% of his annual pay).
In average years an analyst’s bonus might be around 50% of his annual pay – which is quite a lot of money in Pakistan.
Q: And are your co-workers all from Pakistan or are you starting to see immigrants there as well?
A: Right now there are hardly any immigrants – it’s 99.9% Pakistani co-workers.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I’m planning to attend business school in 2 years, ideally at Wharton. I do want to stay in PE, and post-MBA I’d want to go to a larger firm in the US and work there for a few years before returning to the Middle East or Pakistan. If all goes well, I might start my own buyout fund here one day.
I also want to take up stellar and extragalactic astronomy – it has always fascinated me. And if I have enough capital, I want to start a theme-based restaurant at some point.
Or I could just take the CFA…
Q: Please, don’t.
A: Yeah, I think my own restaurant would be more fun anyway.
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