From Analyst Monkey to King of the Jungle MD: The Investment Banking Hierarchy
“This is not a fraternity house,” my staffer explained as he hauled me into a small conference room.
“Some of the MDs have complained about how messy your desk is, so clean it up.”
Genuinely curious, I replied, “Were you referring to the empty Red Bull cans or to all the papers too?”
Not a good start to your 3rd week on the job.
I told this story to a few co-workers afterward and they all laughed and responded the same way:
“He’s lying, a bank is exactly like a frat house.”
They were right – just like a fraternity, there’s hazing, a hierarchy, and certain rituals you must go through to advance.
While this site has been analyst-focused in the past, today you’re going to learn all about this hierarchy, how much you get paid at each level, how the work differs, the average age range, and the possible exit opportunities.
And if you’re curious about hours please stop reading this site right now.
Footnotes & Starting Assumptions
As with the analysis of where your paycheck goes, here I’m starting with the assumption that you’re in a developed country in a major financial hub like New York, London, or Hong Kong.
At the end you’ll learn how this hierarchy might differ outside banking, outside those cities, and in other countries.
These pay figures are not exact – I used recent salary and bonus figures, data from the Careers-in-Finance compensation listings, and other sources like that to get numbers.
So yes, there are exceptions and sometimes you see more pay or less pay – these are rough averages.
Let’s dive right in and start with the bottom of the hierarchy: the analyst monkey.
What You Do: You’re a monkey, and your chief responsibility is to collect bananas for the bigger monkeys higher up in the food chain.
You do most of the Excel and PowerPoint work, take notes, send emails and call people, and even take care of random tasks like fixing printers and picking up dry cleaning.
How You Get In: You’re recruited from a top undergraduate or Master’s program, or you network like a ninja and get in from a lesser-known school. Once you go beyond a few years of full-time work experience, you won’t get in as an analyst because you’re overqualified.
Yes, some people pull this off anyway but it gets exponentially harder the longer you’ve been working.
Age Range: Most analysts are just out of school, so 22-27; in countries with military service or with 5-year undergraduate programs (Europe) the upper end of the range is more common.
Pay: This varies by region and the state of the economy, but most 1st year analysts make at least $100K USD all-in (base salary + bonus) and that may go up to $150K or more if the economy is good.
2nd and 3rd year analysts see increased pay, usually closer to $200K in a good year for a 3rd year analyst, and maybe $150K or a bit less on the lower end in a bad year.
Time to Get Promoted: Usually it takes 3 years to become an associate.
Possible Exit Opps: See our comprehensive article on IB exit opportunities.
Analysts have the most exit opportunities out of all bankers because they’re young and haven’t had “too much” experience in a certain field yet.
What You Do: If the analyst is the monkey, you’re a bigger and better-groomed monkey who’s much smoother in social situations.
You may still do Excel work if the model is complex, but mostly you are checking the analyst’s work and making sure he doesn’t screw up. You spend most of your time managing the analysts and making sure the VP’s orders get executed.
Much of your time is spent talking to clients and seeing what they need when you’re working on deals; analysts are too busy cranking away to have much client interaction, at least at large banks.
You get to attend more meetings and pitches than the analyst, but you will always have a non-speaking role unless the MD needs a number from you.
How You Get In: You either work as an analyst for 3 years and get promoted, or you get recruited out of a top MBA program after working full-time for 3-5 years in another industry.
Theoretically you could get recruited for an associate position if you’ve already graduated from an MBA program and have been working in industry for a while, but this is rare – your chances are 100x better when you’re still in school.
Age Range: This one varies more than the analyst age range because associates come from more diverse backgrounds; 25-35 is the safest estimate because some associates are promoted directly from the analyst pool while others get recruited out of business school.
Getting in when you’re under 25 would be virtually impossible unless you graduated college early, and having 10+ years of experience pre-MBA makes you overqualified.
Pay: Again, there’s more variation here than with analyst pay because the bonus takes up the bulk of an associate’s compensation and that’s heavily dependent on the economy.
In a bad year, a 1st year associate might get between $150K and $200K USD all-in, while more senior associates (3rd and 4th years) might get closer to $400K or $500K all-in in a great year.
If your group is just OK and the economy is neither great nor terrible, your pay will be in the middle of that range.
Time to Get Promoted: Usually it takes 3-4 years to reach Vice President, and it’s harder to get that promotion than it is to go from analyst to associate – you need to show more leadership and client management skills.
Possible Exit Opps: It is more difficult at this level, but the same exit options that exist for Analysts also exist for Associates.
There’s less of a structured process, and you have to be far more proactive in reaching out to recruiters and networking.
What You Do: Moving up the pyramid once again, you are an even larger and more intimidating monkey, and you’ve got lots of barrels to throw down at the chimps below you climbing up the ladder.
You make sure that deals and pitch books get done – you interpret what the MDs and Directors want, and ensure that whatever pops out of your analyst’s cubicle resembles it.
You get a lot more client interaction, and may call buyers and directly pitch a company that you’re selling.
And as you move up, you have to start shifting over to relationship development and winning clients – which is incredibly tough and one of the most difficult transitions to make.
How You Get In: You get promoted after working as an associate for 3-4 years.
It’s extremely rare to break in as a VP coming from outside banking, and I’ve never seen it happen. To have the skills required to run deals and win clients you need to have been in banking for a long time.
Age Range: Since you must have been an associate first, we could say the age range is 28-40, with the average somewhere in the middle.
Pay: There’s even more variability since the bonus takes up such a high percentage of your compensation; base salaries do not increase that much as you move up (even MDs might see only around $150K-$200K base).
Most VPs will earn between $300K and $1MM USD, with the upper-end of that range for more senior VPs in a good year and the lower end for more junior VPs in a bad year.
Time to Get Promoted: Probably another 3-4 years to reach Director / Principal / SVP, though it varies and you may do it more quickly depending on performance.
Possible Exit Opps: Even more limited than associates – either stay in banking or go to a normal company in corporate development.
Moving into PE from this level would be “challenging” to say the least, and even in other fields of finance you would have too much experience to have a good shot.
NOTE: Again, though, in practice people can and do move around – so exit opportunities do still exist even at this level
Director / Senior Vice President / Principal
What You Do: This one is a mix between what VPs and MDs do, and the role differs depending on the bank and group.
Sometimes you focus more on developing relationships and winning clients, and other times you do more execution work and project management like VPs.
But no matter what your role is, you will have to move closer to winning clients if you want to advance to the next level – Managing Director.
How You Get In: You’ve already been an associate and a VP, and you get promoted to this level after a few years of being a VP. I challenge you to find a single example of someone who was not already in investment banking and entered the industry at this level – it doesn’t happen.
Age Range: Sometimes you could get promoted more quickly (2 years rather than 3-4), so we’ll say 30-45. 45 is on the high end and you’d see that only if the person did something else for many years before getting into business school and then investment banking.
Pay: This one’s hard to pinpoint because it’s somewhere in between VP and MD in terms of pay; we’ll say $400K – $1.5MM USD to reflect that range.
As with the other pay numbers here, you should expect the lower end of the range in a bad economy if you haven’t performed well (your closed deal count is low or nonexistent) and the higher end of the range in a good year.
Time to Get Promoted: Similar to the others, a few years to go from here to the next level: Managing Director. We’ll say 2-3 years to get a specific number.
Possible Exit Opps: Imagine a blank screen with no visible life forms. Now imagine seeing this every day after you quit or get fired.
In all seriousness, you could always move over to the corporate side but it would be tough to move into other fields of finance from this position unless you happen to be a serious rainmaker and you have enough contacts to make yourself useful to a PE firm or other buy-side firm.
What You Do: You’re King of the Jungle. All the other chimps answer to you, and you move them around much like a chess grandmaster would move around pawns, bishops, and knights.
90% of your time as an MD is spent winning clients, meeting companies, and developing relationships – you fly around to conferences, meet with PE and VC firms, and position yourself to advise CEOs and win deals.
Occasionally if there’s a massive deal and it’s too big to fail, you get involved with the negotiations. Or if you have a special relationship with an investor or buyer, you may pitch a client to them.
But otherwise, you are sitting back and bringing in new business while everyone below you executes.
How You Get In: Most of the time, you’ve been a banker for life (or close to it) and you’ve worked at all levels in IB before – often across many different banks.
Sometimes you do see MDs who get into the industry from other fields (e.g. a Partner at a law firm that focuses on corporate and securities law, or a PE Partner who has lost his sanity and wants to move back to the sell-side).
But those scenarios are rare even at this level and you don’t see them much at large banks.
Age Range: This one is impossible to define precisely because some MDs really do stay in it for life, or at least until retirement age – for most bankers it is the highest they’ll ever go.
We’ll say early 30’s is the minimum age here, but on the upper end of the range there’s no limit – you rarely find MDs who are past their 50’s, though, so maybe that’s the limit.
By that time they are either burned out and retired on a beach somewhere in Thailand, or they’ve advanced further within the bank (see below).
Pay: This is where compensation has the highest “beta” (this is a finance site, so I am allowed to whip out finance jargon when convenient).
In a bad year with no closed deals, an MD might not make much more than his base salary – maybe the $200K – $300K USD range.
In a good year, they might make in the low millions USD ($1MM – $3MM) depending on how the group is set up, how many deals they’ve closed, and how well they’re playing the office politics game.
Time to Get Promoted: Yes, there are levels beyond MD at large banks (Group Head, C-level executives) but there’s no set path to reach them – you could get lucky and get there in a few years, or you might be there for a decade and never see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Unlike other levels of the banking hierarchy, it’s not “up or out” at the MD-level – it’s more like “make lots of money for us or out.”
So as long as you keep producing, your position will remain intact.
Possible Exit Opps: If you’ve been a lifelong banker, it will be very difficult to move into a completely different field – but you do sometimes see financiers at the top moving around to other high-level positions in the industry.
Some MDs may also just retire and do something completely different – business coaching, angel investing, writing, and so on – especially if they are worth tens of millions of dollars and don’t have a pressing need for cash.
Wait, What About Other Levels?
Note that in some regions and at some banks these levels have different names – VP might be labeled “Director” and SVP might be “Executive Director,” for example.
At firms with a partnership still in place (Goldman Sachs), there is also a difference between normal MDs and Partnership MDs – the Partnership ones make a lot more money.
And then beyond MD, there are Group Heads (e.g. Head of M&A Europe or Head of Capital Markets Asia) and the C-level executives at firms.
With those, the potential compensation is even more variable and could range into the tens of millions (or higher for C-level in a good year) – or the bank might slash its CEO’s pay to $0 in a symbolic gesture if they’ve had a bad year and caused economic Armageddon.
Differences at Boutiques?
Boutiques tend to have fewer levels than bulge bracket banks, so you might not see as many VPs and Directors/SVPs.
Advancement may be faster depending on the firm’s size, but pay will also be lower since the deal sizes are smaller – regional boutiques might pay 50% of the bonus that bulge brackets do (very rough estimate).
This does not apply to the “elite boutiques” (Evercore, Lazard, etc.) which pay more in-line with bulge brackets.
What About Trading?
On the trading side there is a flatter hierarchy and you may reach the MD level more quickly.
Pay is also extremely variable and the top traders might make tens of millions even if they never advance beyond the MD-level (ok, it’s questionable how true that will be post-crisis and financial regulation).
The Buy-Side: Private Equity and Hedge Funds
This one is impossible to cover fully here (maybe in a separate article if someone has good data), but let’s give it a shot:
The private equity side is similar to banking, but you will make more at each level; as a Partner in PE you could make significantly more than MDs in banking (hundreds of millions if you’re Henry Kravis), but at smaller firms you’ll see compensation closer to what banking MDs earn.
The main difference is that you get carry at the Partner-level as well, so that opens up the possibility of earning into the stratosphere if you’ve invested well over the years.
On the hedge fund side, there’s so little reliable information that it’s hard to say anything concrete.
You hear stories about people making hundreds of thousands or millions at young ages, but the average case is probably closer to the compensation levels above for banking.
And while hedge fund managers making billions of dollars a year get a lot of attention, that is far from the average case: the majority of funds out there are much smaller ($100M – $1B AUM) and it’s impossible to earn anywhere near that amount.
In short: hedge fund pay has the highest ceiling of anything here, but there is a massive difference between the founder or the portfolio manager and everyone else in the fund, and pay is almost 100% dependent on fund size and returns.
Developed countries (Western Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, etc.) see similar pay levels and have the same sort of promotion timelines.
In emerging markets, it’s more chaotic and you might advance far more quickly – but also make less in absolute dollars, even if you have your own palace and a harem or two.
The investment banking culture is not as well developed in the BRICS of the world, so you will see many deviations from the hierarchy above.
But in most of these places you have a 0.0% chance of breaking in as a foreigner with no connections: they are looking for locals who have studied or worked abroad and who are now returning to their home countries.
How Do You Move Up the Ladder?
Please see this article on investment banking promotion.
So, what does all of this mean?
Stop Assuming That Investment Banking / Finance in General are Guaranteed Paychecks
Especially as you move up, your pay is based almost entirely on your performance and the economy. A VP who has several closed deals may make more money than an MD who has nothing and gets a bonus of $0.
I’ve attempted to estimate pay ranges above, but to get there in the first place you’ll have to work 80-hour weeks for years and sacrifice your social life and maybe your first-born son or daughter.
Most MDs are Not Mega-Wealthy
Look at the Forbes list of richest people in the world, and you’ll see that there are very few (no?) banker-types on there, unless you count Warren Buffett as a banker (he’s not).
After you’ve taken into account taxes, recessions, the cost of living, and so on, a 10-15 year veteran MD might have $10 million or more saved up.
That is an enormous amount of money to most people, but you will not become a billionaire in finance unless you’re on the buy-side and you’re one of the best in the world like John Paulson.
Forget About Breaking Into Banking in the “Middle Years”
You either get in as an analyst or associate, and if not, you’ve missed your chance unless you have highly relevant experience, the market is frothy, and you trade down (i.e. go from a F500 to a boutique).
Even getting in at the top from other industries is uncommon – you see it more often in VC or PE where operational skill sets are valued.
If you’re in this position, you’re better off looking at other industries or starting your own business.
Expect Your Role to Change Gradually, Not Rapidly
Even though banking has a rigid hierarchy, what you do at each level is not as narrowly defined.
When you move from analyst to associate, you won’t instantly start dating super models or get your own reality TV show – sorry.
Your hours might improve slightly and you won’t have to do as much grunt work, but the pressure to perform will be greater than ever as well.
Oh yes, and please reduce your expectations of $10 million and that beach in Thailand.
By the time you get there as a banker, you’ll be old and wrinkly and probably can’t stay out in the sun for very long anyway.
A frat house, on the other hand, might be well within your reach long before that.
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No, You Can’t Have It All: Why Finance Does Not Guarantee You $10 Million and Your Own Beach in Thailand
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature.”
– Helen Keller
I almost decided not to publish this article.
But it needed to be said.
This one is long – so grab some yerba mate, take a seat, and close your YouTube window before you start.
How It All Started
“I’ve been keeping up with your blog for quite some time now and I’ve noticed that a very diverse group of people eventually “discover” that they want to become a banker (former premed students, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, …).
That said… do you find it odd that so many people always ask you about exit opportunities in the first place when they’re still trying to break into the industry? This makes me suspect that some people have the wrong mindset going into the game (models & bottles).”
Yeah, of course *I* find it odd.
But does anyone else?
No, apparently not – just look at comments like this one:
“Damn… there goes another profession I was aspiring to do go down toilet. I thought the travel involved in consulting was just exaggerated. But I was wrong. I heard from Kevin that consultants at McKinsey travel 50-75% of their time. I’m sorry but I just can’t handle that. My only other alternatives are PE and HF. How are the hours and travel like for each of those professions. I’m praying that at least these jobs don’t screw up my life…”
At least he’s done his homework though: he understands some of the trade-offs between these different options.
But he’s still searching for the magic-bullet solution: a way to become a deca-millionaire with no risk and no 100-hour weeks.
About twice a week I get emails asking, “So, if I work at a boutique can I go home at 10 PM rather than 2 AM each night?”
If you don’t work in the industry or if you haven’t done an internship, I can understand why you don’t “get it” yet.
But then the other day a friend at a top bank emailed me saying:
“Man I’m so tired of banking right now, do you know anything else that would pay me this much and give me much better hours?”
And that’s what pushed me to hit the “Publish” button on this one anyway.
What Do You Want?
It’s a broad question, but most “goals” can be reduced to:
“Become a deca-millionaire without doing much work and also getting my own private beach in Thailand while having the best life ever.”
This brings up a slew of other issues – such as, “Wait, so what then? You’ll get bored in a week of doing nothing” but we’ll put those aside for now.
Based on this goal, you may have already decided that finance is the best route to becoming rich with no risk – and sure, the hours may be bad, but they get better over time, right?
Not so fast.
If this is your plan, you don’t understand the trade-offs between finance, different fields within finance, and different options altogether.
There are an infinite number of variables, but we’re just going to look at the most important ones here.
This is one of the biggest lures of finance: just work for a few years and you’ll become a millionaire instantly, right?
But it’s also one of the most poorly understood trade-offs: most people in finance save little money, and any money they do save they either manage poorly or not at all.
$500K per year doesn’t mean much when it’s only $250K after taxes and $240K of that goes into models, bottles, and sports cars.
I almost cringe writing this one – but it needs to be addressed here.
The secret that no one tells you about prestige: no one in the real world gives a crap where you work or where you went to school.
I can’t even remember the last time I told a stranger where I went to school, even though it’s supposedly one of the top universities in the world.
And not to turn this into a dating column, but citing a “prestigious” school or company won’t attract members of the opposite sex – at least not the ones you want.
Sure, your life may suck for awhile but once you hit 35 and have $10 million you can just deposit it all in bonds, make $800,000 per year in tax-free income, and then retire to the Caribbean right?
Except I know of no bankers or other financiers who have actually done this.
To quote a friend who finished the Analyst program at Goldman Sachs a few years ago: “Even Partners take calls in between their kids’ soccer games on weekends.”
If you’ve been working that much for that long a period of time, you’re going to be bored out of your mind if you actually “retire early.”
You might actually get a thrill out of running around and being on-call all the time; you might like traveling every week; or maybe you just want to relax.
So it is relative.
But we can say a few things with certainty: for example, banking has a lot more grunt work and repetitive tasks than other fields. So you’re probably not going to “like” what you do on a daily basis compared to other options.
This one seems like an afterthought: who cares how many friends you have at work, right? It’s all about the dollars!
Well, not quite. Certain fields are lonelier than others – and one untold benefit of banking is that you’ll make a lot of close friends because you spend so much time at the office.
But in most other fields you’re either alone most of the time, or you don’t have close peers.
And what good is money if you have no friends?
“You might get rich if you start your own company, but it could also fail, you’ll go bankrupt and your life will be over. On the other hand, if you go into finance you will easily become a deca-millionaire with almost no risk of losing money or getting laid off.”
If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past 2 years, you know that the second statement here is false.
But you may not realize that the first statement is also just as wrong. The real risk of starting your own company is not going bankrupt – it’s something else that nobody ever tells you about (yes, you have to keep reading to see what it is).
Ok, Now Let’s Get Specific
“Ok,” you say, “but what about all the fields I’m interested in? Why are you saying I’m wrong about everything?”
But there’s more.
Besides the pay being extremely variable, you should note that most bankers save nothing in their first few years.
$60K-$70K base salary is barely enough to get by in New York, and your bonus just pays off credit card debt. Even at the VP-level and up, plenty of guys make $500K, then spend it all and have no savings.
Think you can avoid that and still save a lot? Peer pressure is tough to resist.
If you really want to “get rich,” you have to stay in the game until you’re at the MD-level, and then be a seasoned MD with regular business coming in.
And that doesn’t happen in 5-10 years.
Prestige? Well, your parents can brag about it to other prestige-obsessed parents but otherwise it has no effect on your life.
Lifestyle: if you have clients and live transactions, you’re always on call – no matter what level you’re at. MDs spend a lot of time answering email and checking their Blackberries “on vacation.”
But despite other drawbacks, banking is good for forming real relationships with people – you spend so much time at work, it would be hard not to. And that keeps you (relatively) sane.
Everyone has heard about “risk” in terms of layoffs and hiring freezes, but actually getting laid off at the entry-level doesn’t matter much: when you’re young you have plenty of options.
But when you reach the mid-levels it gets very, very difficult to “jump back in” if you get cut – which is a big problem when you have 2 mortgages, 3 BMWs, and 2 kids.
Sales & Trading
“Ok,” you say, “so banking is not that great – I know, I’ll do Sales & Trading instead and make as much or more money but also have a life!”
On the surface the lifestyle is better because you work roughly market hours – it can go beyond that, but you’re not going to be pulling all-nighters.
And hey, you can tell people you work at a bank, so it must be prestigious right?
Plus, the social aspect is quite similar to banking: you make a lot of friends because of the environment you’re in. Sure, you might get hazed but that’s just a part of any fraternity trading desk.
And many traders like their work more since there are no pitch books and there’s much less grunt work and coffee-fetching (unless you’re an intern).
So what’s the catch?
Risk and exit opportunities. Most entry-level traders at large investment banks get paid roughly the same, and it’s more dependent on group performance than individual performance.
But as you move up the ladder that changes – more so than in banking, where even a crappy VP might get paid well just because his MD did well.
So yes, if you’re a rock-star trader and can make millions effortlessly year after year, you’re set – but if you have a bad year, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And no matter what area of trading you’re in, you don’t have as many exit opportunities as bankers: as one reader pointed out, this doesn’t make much sense – but that’s the way it is.
If you’re an intern or you’re relatively new you can move elsewhere but you don’t have the flexibility that banking analysts do.
Ah yes, the Promised Land: private equity. Better pay, even more prestige, and much better hours to boot – right?
Well, not exactly.
Let’s start with prestige: whereas 99% of people have heard of Goldman Sachs, the average person doesn’t even know what “private equity” means. KKR or Blackstone may sound prestigious to you, but anyone outside finance is unlikely to know them.
Pay: despite rumors to the contrary, it’s not dramatically different for most people moving into PE. Yes, if you come in from a banking background you’ll get a higher base salary and possibly some sort of guaranteed bonus, but you’re not going to instantly start making $1 million at age 25.
Yes, Partners at the largest PE firms make 10x more (or more) than the top bankers do.
But very few people make it to the top, the industry is much smaller, and if you’re responsible for one bad investment you could be done.
The risk of getting laid off as a junior guy or girl in PE is lower than in banking – but advancing is just as difficult, if not more difficult.
There is less grunt work than in banking, but just a quick reality check: if you don’t find valuing companies, building models, and doing due diligence interesting, you’re going to hate PE too.
The social aspect always gets overlooked – once you move to the buy-side, you lose that large group of friends you used to hang out with, and your co-workers will be much older.
Yes, lifestyle is generally “better” but that’s not true if you go to a large fund – it’s banking hours all over again. And when you get busy with a deal, you’re going to work. A lot.
Much of the above applies to hedge funds as well. The average pay may be higher, but there is so little reliable data on what people at hedge funds actually make that I’m reluctant to say this.
And once again, the lifestyle is not much different from banking at the largest and most well-known funds: You work. A lot.
The risk is even greater with hedge funds, for one simple reason: they have a habit of collapsing.
I’ve been compiling lists of regional banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds, and as I was going through the hedge fund list I kept coming across “As of last year, such-and-such fund has ceased operations” in the “business description” fields.
This isn’t meant to scare you away from hedge funds: it just means that they are more risky than you think, pay is more variable than in banking and private equity (more similar to Sales & Trading), and the lifestyle may not be as good as you think.
I had already given consultants a good beat-down last year, but hey, let’s give it a go once again.
First, the pay is less than any of the other fields mentioned above – unless you’re at a small prop shop that pays $0 base salary.
It’s hard to say whether McKinsey or Goldman Sachs is more “prestigious” – but the average person is more aware of “consultants” than they are of “private equity guys.”
And then there’s the travel aspect: this seems fun at first, but you quickly get tired of flying to the Yukon Territory every week to “advise” on a new oil drilling project.
Most travel is not that bad – but if you don’t want to be away from home every week, you’re going to hate the consulting lifestyle.
One of the big lures of consulting compared to banking is that there’s less “grunt work” and what you do is more “intellectually stimulating.”
But is that true? There’s certainly more “variety” than in banking but I know plenty of consultants who find it very repetitive and think that most of the “research” you do is just fluff.
Still, on average there’s probably more “fun” in consulting.
Another big lure: exit opportunities. One consultant once told me, “Management consulting is the only industry that gives you unlimited options.”
But ask any consultant who’s interviewing for PE or finance-related jobs, and they’ll tell you a different story: yes, it’s possible to get in coming from a consulting background but it’s significantly more difficult than if you were a banker. It’s hard to “prove” you know how to model an LBO if you’ve never done one before.
It’s good preparation for business school or for “management” jobs at companies, but if you’re coming from a consulting background you’re at a disadvantage next to bankers for finance jobs.
I don’t get many emails or comments about this one, probably because no one wants to do it or because you already know the trade-offs.
But I do get a lot of emails saying, “I want to do corporate development after banking to get a better lifestyle. Can you tell me about it?”
My take on it is simple: it’s similar to private equity, but with reduced hours, pay, and upside.
Your chances of getting laid off are very, very low unless you’re at a new startup that happens to fold – but your chances of moving to the top, especially at a huge conglomerate, are slim.
The lifestyle is definitely better than the other options presented here: not much travel most of the time, and the hours are fairly standard except for when you’re working on a live deal.
The other trade-offs vary by what company you’re at and how your group runs – sometimes you might be the only person who isn’t married, and sometimes there’s a bigger group of people your age.
If you go into this after banking – or anything else on this list – you’ll find it very slow since you’re used to constantly running around and being on-call 24/7.
Also, there’s no clear “exit opportunity path” as there is with some of the other options here. Most likely, you’ll end up going to business school or moving to a different company.
I have a theory that everyone who goes into banking secretly wants to start their own company instead. I get a lot of comments and emails that start out like this:
“Hi, I want to stay in banking for 2 years and then use all my money to start a company afterward. Do you think this is a good idea, and if so which group do you think I should be in?”
No, that’s a stupid idea because: 1) You will barely save any money over 2 years. 2) Banking is terrible preparation for entrepreneurship.
This one is almost impossible to write about because it depends on what kind of company you start – offline, online, products, services – and whether you aspire to be the next Google or you’d rather just start a bar with your friends.
But there are 2 important points that no one else ever brings up:
- The real risk is not going bankrupt or ruining your life, but rather wasting time going nowhere.
- This is the loneliest of the options here, because you don’t have peers – you’re either flying solo, or you have employees.
Yes, you could completely fail, but your life isn’t over – this happens all the time in Silicon Valley and everyone bounces back. More often than not, you might spend months or years on something and not get much traction – so you don’t get rich, but you also don’t lose everything.
On the social aspect: even if you end up with employees, you can’t really “hang out” with them. Especially if you started everything alone or with 1 other person, it’s quite lonely.
Pay, enjoyment, and lifestyle vary so much by what you do that it’s impossible to generalize: you could work 100 hours a week and hate your life, or you could treat your business as a simple part-time job.
If you’re wondering why everything I do is online, it’s for exactly those reasons: offline requires far more work, doesn’t give you as much leverage, and restricts your lifestyle a lot more.
Ok, that was really long. And maybe you didn’t read everything.
So here are the major points:
- Wanting to stay in finance for “just a few years” to “get rich” or “have enough experience to do something else” is a poor strategy. You’re not going to be rich after that short a time – and if you want to do something else, be like Nike and just do it.
- Most finance-related jobs entail a lot more risk than anyone ever talks about. And the lifestyle never matches what people with “normal jobs” get, no matter how high up you are.
- If you want to reach the top of anything listed here, it requires work, sacrifice, and risk. This doesn’t happen in “a few years” – it happens by spending 10-20 years or more excelling. There’s no magic bullet.
- The social aspect of all these options is huge and it’s something that almost everyone ignores. Hopefully you’re thinking about it now.
- Be aware of limits on exit opportunities. Hardly anyone tells you, for example, that once you’re at a specialized hedge fund it’s tough to move somewhere that uses completely different strategies.
So, What Should You Do?
Hey, I can’t give you all the answers.
I’m just like Fox News: I report, you decide.
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How Investment Banking Analysts Get Ranked for Bonuses: Roll the Dice, Please
One question that comes up whenever banks announce bonuses is how you get ranked in the first place.
Sure, we all want to be “Top Tier,” but how do you actually get there?
There must be a complex “ranking” process at banks to ensure high standards for everyone…. right?
Nope. It’s actually more like spinning the roulette wheel – or rolling the dice.
Red or Black?
Ok, it’s less “random” than roulette – but there’s also less skill than poker.
And it’s far more random than how summer analysts get offers.
At most banks, the “review” and “tier assignment” process goes something like this:
1. Several months before bonuses are awarded, people who have worked with you will “review” you – sometimes you see these reviews, and sometimes you don’t.
2. Then the MDs go off to New York (or London if you’re at Barclays…) and meet with other MDs to “fight” for how much of the bonus pool gets allocated to their groups.
This doesn’t affect Analysts too much – Analyst “tiers” are usually the same across different groups at a bank.
For anyone more senior, the amounts vary quite a bit depending on how many deals your group closed and how much you contributed personally.
3. Then, back at your own office the MDs discuss internally how they want to “rank” each Analyst, sometimes involving the VPs or whoever else worked closely with you.
Other than step #2, you might think this sounds similar to the summer intern offer process – but there’s one big difference:
Summer interns are awarded offers based on 2-3 months of performance, whereas full-time Analysts are split into bonus tiers based on 12 months of performance.
More often than not, this leads to strange and random things happening.
The finance industry as a whole – and investment banking in particular – has an extremely high turnover rate. Friends have moved to 3 different firms within the span of 1 year (admittedly, this was when the market was better).
If you’re a summer intern and you get to know 1 VP or Associate really well, he’s unlikely to leave in the span of 8-10 weeks – but switching firms, getting laid off, or leaving the industry altogether in the course of a year are all common.
Another friend spent 75% of his time working with 1 VP in his group, and then had the VP leave 2 months before bonuses were announced – you can bet that his bank account was not too happy.
Theoretically, Analysts are divided into tiers based on their “performance” – how well they did their work.
But it’s not quite that simple:
You don’t benefit much from being a “star,” but you can get screwed if you make the wrong mistakes in front of the wrong people, especially if it’s close to bonus season.
It’s impossible to do anything to “boost revenue,” but there are plenty of ways your mistakes could cost your bank money – so there is a strong bias against mistakes rather than going the extra mile.
And even though you’re being judged over the course of a year, most people forget what happens in the middle and only remember the beginning and the end – so it’s not the “weighted average” of your work.
So, What Can You Do?
If the ranking process is so random, what can you do to improve your chances of getting a decent bonus?
Beginning and End Bias & First Impressions
As mentioned above, the beginning and the end – roughly the first and last month – of your time as an Analyst are more important than anything else.
No matter what you do, you’re going to make mistakes when you first start – the key is to recover rapidly and show that you learned your lesson before you make another silly mistake.
And don’t be like one former colleague of mine who kept asking for “cross-border China deals” in his first week at work (unless you want bottom-tier bonus, like he got).
Be doubly cautious in the beginning and quadruple check anything before showing it to a senior banker – and get a 2nd year Analyst to look at it. No matter how much you think you know, every bank does things differently.
The same advice applies to your final months before bonus season: check everything more than you usually would, print it out, and make sure you don’t miss any meetings because you “overslept.”
Spreading Your Net
You need to get to know lots of different people as an insurance policy – just in case your staunchest advocate leaves or gets laid off midway through the year.
Summer interns are fine getting to know just their team and making a good impression on them, but you need to be more thorough if you’re a full-timer.
The easiest way to do this: get introductions from other full-time Analysts who know different people in your office, and take it from there.
Don’t bother getting to know people from different offices, unless you’re interested in moving elsewhere – they don’t weigh in on your bonus at all.
Stop Thinking About the Number
One final tip: stop thinking about your bonus number. Yes, if you do a better job than someone else you might get $5-$10K more, but that is not much over an entire year.
You should be more concerned with the quality of your recommendations, both for the buy-side and for business school – because those will actually make a big difference in the long-run.
Not all banks have a tradition of “recommending” Analysts to different funds, but most of the larger ones certainly do – they know that very few people stay beyond 2 years.
So you should spend most of your time thinking about that, and how to get the MDs with the most connections to “go to bat” for you and make the recommendation that gets you that interview at Blackstone.
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