Breaking into IB: Toronto, Canada

Hello Bay Street Folk,

After reading and enjoying WSO posts for the past 4 years; I decided to finally make an account and post for myself.

I am looking for some advice and potentially a mentor who can guide me through breaking into IB in Toronto. I appreciate the anonymity WSO offers but would love to introduce myself to mentors properly over PM/LinkedIn.

A little about myself:

Graduated with a degree in Engineering (Not CS/SWE) from a top Canadian University. (cGPA 2.74 - I know, this is terrible.)

Unfortunately I was forced into this degree by my parents, although I had expressed my interest in attending a BB target to study finance. (The typical mentality of parents back in my country is to send high performing / "smart" kids to study Engineering, Medicine or Law). Needless to say, my time in university was soul crushing. I tried hard but really lacked interest and lost my drive. By the end of 2nd year I had a 2.2 GPA, failed to secure internships and was taking medication for anxiety and depression.

Fortunately my parents realised and started supporting me in my career choices. I took a year off from my degree and evaluated my options.

It was not possible to transfer to a target B.Com / BBA so I ultimately decided to finish the degree my parents had paid ridiculous international tuition for since I wouldn't be able to live with that guilt.

However, I did some research and found that the CPA designation seemed to be valued in Canada. I found I could write the CPA exam as a non traditional applicant if I had a degree + satisfied the prerequisite education requirement.

During my year off, I indulged in CPA approved accounting and finance courses through the school of continuing education at U of T. Even though I overloaded with 8 courses in a semester, I had the time of my life and was effortlessly able to achieve high grades.

I returned to engineering refreshened, and my grades started picking up and increased a little every term until I topped out at a 3.97/4.00 in my final semester.

I am currently working in an office based insurance sales job, which offered me the opportunity to enhance my communication skills which definitely helps with interviews.

If you've been with me so far, thank you for reading. Now that I have provided sufficient background, I want to ask my questions:

Question 1) Would it be worthwhile to pursue a masters degree in Canada ? Any advice, experiences, networking opportunities you can suggest would be appreciated.

I already read that unlike the US, IB recruitment in Canada is mostly from target undergraduate programs: Ivey > QU > McGill > Rotman > Others.

I NEED to remain in Canada. I am sure I will receive my PR within a year; and am not ready to run the risk of H1B visa issues in the US. Besides, I have grown to love Canada and want to settle in Toronto - leaving it for the US is simply not worth it in my opinion.

I have finished my degree with a low cGPA of 2.74/4.00 (last 2 year GPA is 3.09). I realise this is pathetic and will not get me a foot in the door for any front office positions and will barely qualify me for less competitive masters programs.

It it helps, I have also completed the equivalent of an accounting undergrad with good grades - albeit with no degree credit so I doubt it will help get a job. It does qualify me to proceed with the CPA PEP program though.

What I need is a clean slate and access to on campus recruiting - options only available if I do a masters degree.

Back to the question - Is it even worth attempting getting a masters ? Have you ever come across masters candidates in IB ? Literally all my LinkedIn searches reveal only undergrads in IB Analyst roles and most associates seem to be promoted / lateral from Big 4 TAS. Am I missing something here ?

Question 2) If I were to pursue a masters degree, which one should I do ?

Ideally it would be something with COOP opportunities and given the risk that I don't get an IB position after grad, I would prefer an M.Acc rather than an M.Fin since the former would allow me to skip straight to the CPA final exam.

In the worst case, I know that with the CPA exam cleared and a high GPA in M.Acc I should have a shot with the Big 4 accounting firms and can wiggle my way into IB after working in transaction advisory. However, this is obviously the less preferred option since I might have to suffer in audit (which I am not exactly into) before I can move to TAS / M&A. Moreover, I would have to slog for far less compensation while I could be making far more money in IB doing what I actually prefer.

I did some research and came up with these options that satisfy the criteria (Listed from best to worst - based on cost, program length etc):

Option A: M.Acc at Brock University Goodman School. (7 months, 1 COOP at the end of the program; not sure how that works) Total tuition cost $12,000 The program enables me to skip CPA PEP and prepared me for the final exam. It allows me to take the CPA finance elective too.
Only issue I see is that I found literally just 1-2 undergrads from their school on LinkedIn who made it to IB.

Option B: M.Fin at Wilfred Laurier University Lazaridis School. Total tuition cost $30,000
This seems like the best option, (2 COOP terms) except tuition is steep and in the event that I fail to secure an IB role, I would be left with the entire CPA PEP program to complete, which can take 2+ years. However, Lazaridis seems well represented in banking since I see several undergrad alumni in IB on LinkedIn.

Option C: M.AccFin at University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Total tuition cost $30,000+ (16 months, 1 COOP) Unfortunately I see no alumni on LinkedIn.

Option D: MMPA at University of Toronto Mississauga. (24 months, 2 COOP) Total tuition cost $60,000 (I could potentially do the 12 month option and save time and $ but I would need to check my eligibility)

The obvious choice seems like Option A simply based on cost, but the university name carries less prestige.

Regardless of what option I choose, I will supplement it with:

A) CFA Level 1 (Potentially 2/3 if it really helps)
B) CFI / WSO modelling, excel, presentation and IB related courses.

Please let me know if my plan sounds like a good idea. Any and all help will be appreciated.

If you agree to mentor me, rest assured I will respect your personal time and not be a pest.

I know this was long, so I thank you all for reading: I appreciate your time !


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Comments (30)

Most Helpful
  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Mar 8, 2021 - 3:16pm

As a 1st year analyst at a Big 5 Bank in Toronto, here's my 2 cents:
I don't want to be "that" guy, but you literally have 0.00001% chance of breaking into IB even with a Master's degree. You must understand that the number of spots available on Bay Street is sparse while the supply of students from top programs (Ivey, Queens etc.) are abundant. The reality is you messed up during your undergrad degree and you are just going to have to move on with your life. The IB boat has sailed long time ago my friend -- don't get me wrong this is not a great boat to be in either given how limited the desirable "buyside exit opps" are in TO. On top of all that you are an international student with no relevant experience in Canada, no one will give your profile a look. A Master's degree from a non-target program will not reset your past / "give you a clean slate", I would strongly recommend you don't put yourself or your family through the financial burden one more time for a pipe dream.

Mar 8, 2021 - 4:15pm

Thank you for your super prompt response and honest opinion, really appreciate the feedback.

I was sure that my chances would be non existent but I wanted to be a 100% sure that experienced folk such as yourself can confirm the sad news.

Regarding exit ops, I didn't really worry about it because I had my heart set on being a career banker - Besides I assume I could get into a good MBA if I ever decided to change.

I did have some BACK OFFICE corporate banking experience at a tier 2 bank in TO. That's as relevant as it gets for me.

Now that IB is clearly out of the picture, any suggestions on what I can do ? Do you think corporate banking would work out ? Do you have any suggestions on what options I could realistically explore in finance ? (Barring Middle office / back office).

I am happy to communicate through this thread, but if you find it more convenient to do a quick call please PM me. Thank you once again and hope you have a great day.

Mar 9, 2021 - 6:47pm

Eh while I think you are largely right, you do always see the odd person have a good go at some of the more random boutiques and move around. Firepower Capital always takes people, and I have seen some network hard enough to get into better shops. The BB banking ship has sailed, but it's always possible to still be a well paid banker at a shitty shop. Benefit of Bay Street being a couple hundred people is that networking matters much more

Mar 8, 2021 - 3:27pm

I agree with the above that a Masters will not help but if you are set on IB, your best shot is probably working for a couple years, going to a top MBA school and recruiting for IB then as banks recruit heavily on campus for associates at top MBA programs. This is only possible if you get into a top MBA

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Mar 8, 2021 - 3:39pm

Try for Audit roles at Big 4 and move to the M&A team. After a few years, you could possibly lateral into an associate role. IB is always tough man. I agree with the posts above, but if you are serious Audit -> CPA -> Financial Advisory -> IB is plausible. I would look into a master's of accounting or something to get in. 

  • VP in IB - Gen
Mar 8, 2021 - 4:27pm

Your path of least resistance is to get a reasonably good job at a known company, get a promo or two, get the CFA (if you can) - by then hopefully you have your PR.  I'd then head to the US for MBA and come back to Canada.  I broke into IB in Canada from a Canadian MBA but required a lot of hustle and had to spend a few years in a non-IB (but similar role) before I lateralled.  There's very little associate hiring at the MBA level compared to the US as you already noted.

Mar 8, 2021 - 7:06pm

I really want to know more about what you do now and how you got there in more detail. Would you be willing to PM me and have a short chat ? If not, I completely understand. I know you must be very busy so I sincerely thank you for taking the time to respond.

Mar 8, 2021 - 7:00pm

Guys, I am beyond thrilled that so many of you busy folk have taken the time to read through my rather long story and respond.

Based on the opinion of the majority here, it is safe to assume that breaking into Canadian IB is near impossible for me without a top MBA.

That being said, now I want to shift the focus to building the most rewarding career I possibly can.

What are my options guys ? Based on the comments and my knowledge, the best path would be M.Acc > CPA > Big 4 Audit > FAS > Lateral to IB

Now the question becomes:

1) How am I going to break into the Big 4 without accounting experience ? The closest experience I have is a back office corporate banking summer gig where I mostly did cash flow reporting / reconciliations, journal entries etc.

2) I understand that an IB Analyst role is out of the picture, but would there be any chance for Corporate Banking, Equity Research, T&S or Corporate Finance roles in industry ? Will a M.Acc / M.Fin (not MBA) give me an option ?

3) I am currently employed in a large P&C insurance firm at a bottom of the ladder office job (Associate Sales). That being said, they do have a culture of promoting from within (I just don't feel I will make it far, as long as "finance" is concerned) Do you think I am better off staying within the company, getting my CPA and trying to move into a accounting > financial analyst > investment analyst / corporate finance position ? I know that being an insurance company they have investment analyst roles. But would they would seriously consider me for those ? (With a CPA / CFA completed of course)

4) Do you suggest not wasting time / resources on finance and move onto computer science since I have an engineering background ?

A lot of people tell me the best way is to do a bootcamp > get an entry level web dev job > online masters from a top US school > SWE for a product tech company. I think this is something I could excel at and make decent $, but in my heart I would always feel bad about not pursuing my aspirations (Banking).

Honestly, I just want a career that I have at least some passion for and pays decent $. My family is very well known / connected back home and landing a job at a BB's local branch wouldn't be too difficult. That being said, it is my decision to settle here and build my career independently.

The opportunity cost career wise, is high. Am I being a fool by trying to settle in Canada ?

Mar 9, 2021 - 7:33am

I think the boot camp route could potentially be viable - only if you actively enjoy coding! I don't know what kind of engineering you studied in school but if it had anything remotely to do with computers and you got that GPA... that's not a good sign. If it was something totally unrelated and you secretly have a passion for coding, then by all means I think that would be a great move. CS is something you need to be interested in to do well - otherwise it's very easy to be "left behind" by the new tech coming out, if you aren't willing to learn all the time. My 2 cents from graduating with CS degree and having friends who work in SE.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Mar 8, 2021 - 7:11pm

I'm the AN1 above, let me try to address some of your questions as I wait for comments from my MD.

1) Only way would be through a M.Acc program
2) As I said in my comment above, the Finance space in Toronto (and Canada) is super small. There just aren't enough Corp. Banking, Equity Research etc. spots for them to give a shot to a guy like you (who on paper isn't the strongest candidate). Even if you go to a M.Fin, you probably won't end up in a target program given your applicant profile, and it will be again very difficult for you to land a role without any prior experience in the field and not-so-solid credentials.
3) As long as you demonstrate yourself, why not. But you can't just hop around department to dept every 3-6 months, you'll need to spend 1-2 years per role and complete CPA/CFA along the way.
4) idk anything about CS except that it is VERY different than finance. So, first, decide what is it that you want to do, then make the decision.

The question here is why do you want to settle in Canada? In order for me to provide better guidance on this, I should probably first know which country it is that you are coming from/parents located? The answer to that q will help me tell you if you would be better off in Canada or your home country!

Mar 8, 2021 - 11:46pm

1) Okay so let's say I get into a decent M.Acc program, with my lack of Big 4 / accounting internships will I not find it hard to break in ? I understand it's not IB hard, but I'm assuming it will be super competitive nonetheless. If you have any tips / resources I should explore / recommendations on people I can connect with feel free to share. I understand you probably don't have experience with big 4 recruiting, but considering you got into IB I am sure that advice from you regarding recruiting in general will be very valuable. I'm looking for tips that I wasn't able to find online, more "soft tips" and personal experiences on what worked and what didn't.

2) Okay, I know I probably won't get into a target program - but my idea was basically using the 2 COOP terms and high GPA in the first semester to access a fall / winter internship since I'm assuming they would be slightly less competitive than summer internships. However, doing this M.Fin even if I got into a target, I feel is a risky call vs MAcc.

3) If I spent 2 years in each role, I would estimate that reaching my goal would take 8 years. Probably not the fastest path, which is why I'm looking for ways to give me one more shot at landing a real career opportunity with a well defined path / exit opportunities. My major issue is that horrendous undergrad prevented me from getting good internships, graduate development programs etc at large corporations.

I am just looking for one more educational opportunity to prove that I can perform at a high level, get that high GPA, secure an internship and break into a good FLDP / new graduate program at a F100. Any experience or advice for my situation ?

4) I agree: My obvious interest is in finance. Accounting is nothing but the means to that end. That being said, with a pay so awful, hours so long and low chance that I will eventually make it to IB - it seems like a risky option.

CS on the other hand I hear has a relatively low barrier to entry, relative shortage of workers, decent entry level pay - opportunities to lateral are virtually endless I hear. (I know this is not the place to discuss a tech career, so I'll leave that for another time). But you get the idea - I am looking for the career that allows me to maximise my earnings until age 35 (I am 23 now) given my lacklustre undergraduate performance. I know there's no excuse for it, and I will have to pay my dues. But I want to minimise the time I waste with unfocused pursuits, and quickly get on a well defined career path.

Why I want to be in Canada ?

I am from India. Its a third world country and will be that way for a good time. Sure I have a chauffeur, maids, cooks and the like but despite that, the quality of life is simply not comparable. Air and noise pollution is terrible. Cost of luxury goods is x2.4 vs Canada (Example an entry level German luxury sedan costs CAD100,000). In cities like mumbai (where the good opportunities are) you can't afford buying your own condo in a decent area without paying upwards of a million. Prices are even higher than toronto with no amenities to match. More importantly income to housing price ratio is so out of whack that most young millennials can't afford to live by themselves and live with their parents beyond age 30 in many cases. Mortgages require 40% down and interest rates are x5 a developed country. Detached housing in mumbai/delhi is a privilege reserved for multi millionaires.

Sorry I went on a rant there; but I think you get the point. To make matters worse my parents are old fashioned and very controlling (mostly my dad). My dad doesn't miss any opportunity to nag me. Owning my own home before I turn 30 is far more likely in Canada vs India. Living life on my own terms is important to me.

Am I being immature here ? I need you to be brutally honest with me.

Mar 8, 2021 - 7:22pm

I don't know what the experienced post grad requirements are for a Masters, but is there no way you can qualify for an MBA at Ivey or an MAcc from Waterloo? And remember a Masters isn't your only educational option. As has been noted here already, getting your CPA and/or CFA could add just as much value to your pursuit. Consider one or both of these designations in addition to or in place of the Masters degree.

Mar 8, 2021 - 11:57pm

I am positive I stand no chance for admissions to Ivey MBA with my current profile. (cGPA 2.74 /  

Can you tell me more about the waterloo M.Acc ? It was one of the first schools I looked at and I am pretty sure their website explicitly mentioned they only accept Waterloo Bachelors degrees. Correct me if I am missing something here.

If you have any more recommendations on M.Acc programs please do share :)

Regarding CPA/CFA - yes absolutely I will definitely go through those, but my main issue is that they won't really "reset" my undergrad GPA or give me access to on campus recruiting / new graduate development programs / entry to the big banks or even the big 4.

Mar 8, 2021 - 7:28pm

As far as career goes, your two best bets are: 1) the big 4 audit to TS to IB route, but this will take you at least 4 years, and you will need your CPA, and even then you aren't guaranteed to get a transfer to TS and even less so an exit option to IB. 2) get a corporate M&A role. All big corporates have Corp Dev / Corp Fin / Corp M&A teams. Apply to one of them directly, or just generally join the finance function at a big corp and eventually try to internal transfer to the M&A team. That is less likely to get you in to IB, but instead you'll be the client for the IB teams trying to pitch you deals, and so you'll be hiring and working closely with IB. And getting in to a corporate job is an easier path than the other finance/accounting/banking options.

Mar 9, 2021 - 12:07am

I really appreciate this advice. Sounds solid.

Out of the 2 options, I would definitely be more interested in the corp dev/fin/m&a option. It would be really nice if you could elaborate further on how I could break in ? What should my approach be ? What would be my best course to action to get on that boat given my current situation ?

If you would rather have a short chat with me, rather than type out a detailed response please PM me. I would love having a mentor who can guide me periodically (I promise to not take up too much of your time).

Mar 8, 2021 - 11:25pm

Hey man, if you are based in Toronto look into the U of T Mfin - St Georges Campus (Part time Wednesday nights and Saturdays). Its really expensive but will help your brand and GPA aspect if you get good scores. You will have to take GMAT and get at least 720+.

Also, since you are from an Eng Background, doing CFA is a viable option. It doesn't really help in IB but it is a checkmark of competence.

Another option is to grind it out where you are and climb the ranks and then do an MBA at Rotman in a few years. You should be able to get in IB through associate recruiting if you have solid experience.

IB in Canada is super competitive due to limited spots vs somewhere like the US.

  • Associate 1 in RE - Other
Mar 8, 2021 - 11:27pm

Most of these guys don't realise there are more than one path to mecca - I was once in broadly similar shoes. Do not do a masters at a Canadian school, even if you want to stay in Canada, they are fruitless. Best path imho would be to do a masters in financial engineering at UCLA or the like, and then get one or two good internships. I went to the US, found a surprisingly good PE to let me work for them for free after doing a Tier 1B masters (like UCLA) and then was able to get a job in Canada I never would have gotten otherwise.

The people who tell you to give up have never felt the deep grind - never give up.

  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Mar 8, 2021 - 11:44pm

I broke in without a degree.

Obviously pretty rare, but it comes down to how well you can sell yourself.

Everything is sales.

My advice: Call the managing partners of every firm, introduce yourself and explain you want to work in IB. Say you know they weren't expecting your call, but you're happy to call back at a time when they're expecting you.

Schedule a call. Do a crazy amount of research on them and kickass next time you speak to them.

This is the very skillset you need to succeed in this industry. At least a few will recognize that and give you a shot to prove yourself.

Good luck!

Mar 9, 2021 - 2:19am

I love your positivity. I was wondering if you can share your experience and tell me how you:

1) Managed to find contact information for managing partners. I saw some firms which actually had email, phone and LinkedIn profile links for all staff on their website but I assume this isn't the norm.

2) How to get past a secretary successfully ?

3) If you had any specific script for the call. I know there's resources that actually highlight this process, but it would be nice to know what worked for you personally.

4) When you say research them, what should I be looking for exactly ? I mean sure I can google them, their firm, find out the deals they've worked on etc. It would be nice if you could pin point top 5 key things to know about a firm / group before I attempt a call, just to avoid sounding like an idiot.

5) I am assuming this worked for boutiques but probably not bigger banks with a more structured recruitment process ? I am assuming the best way in would be to offer to intern for free ? How common is this practice in Toronto ? What boutiques would you recommend trying my luck at ?

I sincerely thank you for the advice, and would love to connect with you. Please send me a PM if you are open to that and rest assured I won't waste your time.

Mar 9, 2021 - 1:10am

Hey, bud. Heartening to see all the responses that have flooded in to help you out. I hope you understand that this can be a rarity, especially when you are asking broad-stroke questions. I digress.

I will try to put out the perspective that is not here, or maybe it is and I skipped it.

1. If you really want to have a good shot at IB, the CPA > TAS > M&A  at Big4, MBA, and then IB thing seems possible. Check out the MM PE funds in Toronto. You will find a ton of CPAs there. The probabilities will not favor you at any given point here. But, hey, you are trying to follow the 'noblest pursuit for the man' - IB and PE. That is supposed to be difficult by design.

Also - keep your eyes open for the pension fund openings (CPPIB, OTPP, HOOP, CDPQ, and the rest). Breaking in would be tough but it can give you a solid brand name on your resume. If nothing, it will give you more leverage for the future and you can always take internal transfers and target an investment role.

2. With your CPA, take up the CBV. It is focused on Valuation, which can be a cakewalk for someone who is up for the grind and has a solid accounting background. Most CBVs work in Disputes and Litigation support, but I keep seeing openings at Deloitte, KPMG, Richter (large family office), and BDO for Valuation folks. That way, you will get to be a part of the M&A product sooner than later. And if things go south, you can still stick around and garner a ton of transferable experience for IB, go for the MBA, and target that Associate level gig. Also, with a CPA, CBV, and some transaction experience, you can target some LMM PE jobs (the ones just a little above Business Brokerage levels). They come out rarely but you will have a realistic shot at it. The pay would not match a mega-fund or even BB IB, but you will get to take the investing seat. 

3. Whatever you do - make sure you know why you want to be in IB. At this point, I know folks who have done $1000 jobs at no-name IB funds for a year to get things rolling and immediately jumped ship when they had the sliver of a chance. Such folks do not focus on 'should I do CS because this will take a lot of time'. Sure, you are trying to mitigate career risk but by that logic you should not be pursuing IB at this point altogether - probabilities do not favor you and you are not sure what's the action plan here. 

So, put risk mitigation a little to the side and try to find out why is IB so important? You can break into considerably well-paying jobs other than IB, get your PR, and have a good life. If you choose IB, you better have some very solid reasons for yourself because it will be an uphill battle. 

But then, everything worth pursuing is tough. So, at least you have that. Feel free to dinge the advice. And, keep us all posted. Cheers. 

Mar 9, 2021 - 4:06am

I'll be very brief:

- An engineering degree is highly appreciated (people with history bachelors get in)

- These are the years of diversity and inclusion (which sucks) but here we are so leverage your different background

- If you fail to get an internship consider a master at a target school (fuck CPA, waste of money)

NETWORKKKK is the best way in

Good luck!

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Mar 9, 2021 - 11:09am

I think most people didn't see the detail that you were Indian, especially in boutique banks in Toronto, your chances will be very low. There are plenty of Canadian kids with better GPAs, experiences also gunning for these positions. The born-and-raised in Toronto MD will not hire you over someone who is coming from the borough next to his.. Just leave this shit country with its awful weather and small finance scene and live a lavish life off of your family's wealth in your home country. I wouldn't think back. 

Mar 9, 2021 - 2:06pm

Going back home and living off family wealth is against everything I believe in. I hate not having something to do every second of the day. Wasting my time gives me serious anxiety and the way I see it - the only way out is to find a career that allows me to dedicate all my energy to it and rewards me well financially. 

That being said, I get what you are trying to say - life will obviously be much harder for me in Canada. Finance or not, I am determined to grind it out for at least the next 10 years and make something of myself to feel accomplished. The reason I was interested specifically in IB is that I like finance (specifically M&A), enjoy building mathematical models and I know that it will keep me BUSY. I feel that just being busy all the time while earning > double the average income is great for my mental health. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Mar 9, 2021 - 9:50pm

haha you are right the weather was good today (8 degrees Celcius) but the annoying thing is it is expected to snow later on in the week. From my experiences beginning of November - beginning of April is considered Winter here, and 5 months is a damn long period of time :(

Mar 10, 2021 - 1:09am

Hey man, I was an IB analyst at a Big 5 firm and recently left to a US firm in NYC. Shoot me a PM, and we can chat.

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