COVID driving 'high finance' professionals into career 180s?

Seen this in numerous people in my network and curious if others are experiencing something similar?  Seems like many people I know in PE/IB have moved into more 'lifestyle' accommodating or less institutional jobs - operating roles at portcos, startups, search funds, etc.

Of course this sort of career migration is perfectly normal in normal times but I wonder if COVID is accelerating/increasing it.  These were all people on long-term "partner" (or equivalent) tracks making $500k-$1m cash per year that were well regarded at their respective firms.  

Are others seeing this in their network?  Part of it, I think, is just the lack of intangible benefits of high finance jobs these days (though that could change soon).  Working around the clock is a bit less appealing without the big gleaming office in Midtown, surrounded by likeminded people with similar backgrounds, first class business travel, meeting interesting management teams in person, etc.  Now that everyone's just glued to zoom 24/7, it feels like it's driving some serious reconsideration of priorities.

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Comments (60)

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Apr 5, 2021 - 11:32am

I think to add on to what you're saying: part of it is the lack of intangible benefits, but the pendulum swings the other way. The other part is a little bit of shame of willingly working a job with this lifestyle. It's one thing to go to the office with a bunch of likeminded people (admittedly, we are a bit out of the ordinary for our work habits), but it's another thing entirely to work like this in front of people with normal/typical working habits and hours. My partner, parents, and roommates, who I have all lived with at some point or another in the last year, have been fairly horrified / disgusted by the PE lifestyle (e.g., "is this really what you want out of life?"). I think having outside "anti-validation" causes some people some cognitive dissonance because, isn't this supposed to be the peak of careers? I thought so, then everyone I knew was repulsed by seeing what a day in the life is like.

Edit (04/21): this seemed relevant

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  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
Apr 19, 2021 - 4:37pm

So true - my parents fearing they missed some psychotic indications or signs in me that I willingly work 100 hours a week...

  • Analyst 1 in PE - Other
Apr 5, 2021 - 11:34am

junior person here, but I know tons of analysts at both top IBs and associates at MBB quit without backup plans or to join much lower-paying jobs mostly at startups. without the external validation / motivators (i.e. office, city lifestyle, etc.) the pay, even if it's 2-3x higher, seems pointless. feel like this might all reset a bit though soon

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  • Analyst 1 in AM - Equities
Apr 5, 2021 - 12:17pm

I mean juniors in PE/IB are basically bitches that would suck old man d*ck if it paid the same. So, you shouldn't be surprised that this is happening. Go ahead and bring the MS but you tards willingly suck d for 90 hours a week

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Apr 5, 2021 - 12:37pm

Have seen this with others and myself.  I think a large part of it is the stripping away of the intangible benefits.  A lot of the superficial flash is gone, and you're left with just the work (which is pretty mindless at most shops).  I think the other piece is that most PE/IB shops have generally shitty cultures.  And WFH has really exacerbated the sharp elbowed behavior.  

It's definitely made me reconsider this line of work, especially seeing friends in tech and consulting being treated better generally. 

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Apr 5, 2021 - 12:41pm

Yeah also being able to see what my friends/peers have been able to do over the last year.  Many have taken road trips, worked from remote locales.  Despite WFH I've felt like I need to be in a pretty stable place with reliable internet and connected 24/7 so participating in any of that has felt impossible.  And the few times I did try to tag along, I was plugged in and working in an inconvenient place and not really able to enjoy it.  Really eye opening

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Apr 5, 2021 - 1:01pm

The kicker is that you look up a few levels and it's not the like the VPs, principals, or even partners are just kicking back.  It's one thing to delay gratification in your 20s/early 30s, but guys with families are up late and working through the weekend.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Apr 5, 2021 - 2:15pm

A lot of the superficial flash is gone, and you're left with just the work (which is pretty mindless at most shops

I agree with this point. I think that doing this job with the superficial flash makes it easier to forget that the role until after you finish your VP years is basically PMO + Accounting, two of the least sexy types of work possible. What your question makes me wonder is: when we go back to in-person, will the bloom be back on the rose (so to speak) or will people who have seen under the hood still be left with a deteriorated/ing level of interest in the profession?

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  • Analyst 1 in S&T - Equities
Apr 5, 2021 - 2:21pm

Once people get to rock their banker bags on subway things will get better mentally 

Apr 5, 2021 - 2:49pm

Pretty sad if these intangibles are so important to people......honestly I don't give a flying fuck for any of that shit. I just want a place to work with a decent commute. I've seen a hundred opulent offices. Also, don't care about flying anywhere and eating fancy dinners when it's all work oriented.  The "magic" of this stuff wore off on me really quick. I'm kind of confused how others don't feel the same.

Side note: Being surrounded by "likeminded people with similar backgrounds" is a negative intangible to me.

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Apr 5, 2021 - 3:16pm

I don't think anyone is doing PE for those intangibles - but they did a nice job of making the work tolerable and reinforcing the idea that you're in one of the most competitive fields out there.  Even if the work itself is pretty mindless, every PE shop thinks they have the smartest guys in the room.  And when you're in that environment everyday, you start to believe PE is the be-all, end-all.

For better or worse, WFH has pulled people out of that bubble.   

Apr 5, 2021 - 3:25pm

Edited to explain why. 

COVID has done a lot to expose the vast number of useless slugs in this industry that just sit on top and collect checks while adding almost no value. Personally, we are a smaller part of a massive global asset manager that has had some significant executive shifts within the past two years. During COVID and even now after, all these people have done is stand in the way of deploying capital, creating busy work that my non-finance friends have referred to as "a lot of homework", and made excuses for why comp is slightly down (even amid record gains) and promotions are delayed. Furthermore, since we are part of this huge conglomerate the ridiculous amount of diversity virtue signaling and over emphasis on meaningless ESG efforts only makes the job even more tedious while exploding non-revenue generating overhead reducing pay for all the people that actually create value. Here's a thought, instead of having half a dozen special committees on "equity and inclusion", let's play a game called "fire the racist." We all know who they are so why not just rip the band-aid off and get back to work. All of this in the midst of people relentlessly beating on juniors to accomplish absolutely nothing. Personally, I absolutely love what I do, and the thought of abandoning a craft I have worked tirelessly to perfect is heart breaking and just leaves me feeling lost. However, I think that is an indication of just how bad things have gotten. The world in general has felt like a horrifying blend of Atlas Shrugged and Idiocracy, "high finance" had been relatively immune to the broader deterioration of society, or at least that's what I thought. COVID exposed the do-nothings within the industry and all this societal bs has brought the "each to their ability" mantra to a world where it has zero relevance. In summary, the game just isn't fun anymore, so I may take my ball and go home. 

Apr 5, 2021 - 6:26pm

I wasn't making $500k-1M, but I definitely re-evaluated and made the decision to get out of traditional finance (and happily taking a big pay cut to do so). COVID I think really amplified a lot of problems with the industry generally and from my experience I know it exacerbated a lot of the culture issues at my old shop and somehow made them even worse.

Apr 6, 2021 - 3:51pm

Have you considered working at a smaller firm with less politics & BS?

Apr 6, 2021 - 7:05pm

Of course, but then you just have to deal with a different type of incompetence/stupidity. I honestly don't think I would be happy staying in this industry unless I am able to raise my own fund with some close friends whose opinion I value. Unfortunately I'm not from an Ivy, have zero family backing, and am too junior to pull it off. I think with a few years as principal under my belt with a good track record I could, but I am rapidly losing patience and don't think I will get there. 

Apr 20, 2021 - 6:04pm

ESG/diversity point resonates. These days you get ESG questionnaires with 30 questions where 0 thought has gone into it just to tick the box that 1) is quite costly/time consuming 2) does not solve the issue or help to solve the issue in fact people people gow to hate it, it seems it hurts the issue evern more and 3) is just a waste of everyone's tome

Apr 5, 2021 - 6:59pm

The imminent tax hikes and likely elimination of favorable capital gains / carry tax-treatment will not help in this regard.

At the end of the day - I think people are realizing that you can't take the money with you when you die, for the vast, vast majority of people there is no difference between having ~$5mm in net-worth vs. $50+, and time + youth is priceless and fleeting. Let's be clear - the $1mm XYZ pays you is not 'free'. You 'earned' every dollar of it. You paid for it with decreased health (decreased lifespan), time with your friends / family that you will never, ever get back, and most importantly for few if any people is this career path (whose mission is to make as much money as possible) intrinsically rewarding - and call me naive but I think as people grow a bit older (30+), that kind of stuff matters. You look yourself in the mirror and it feels good to know that what you are doing with your time and skills is having a positive impact somewhere. You can spin all the narratives that can be spun - at the end of the day, I'd argue that feeling is not there for most people in our field. 

  • Analyst 1 in S&T - Equities
Apr 5, 2021 - 7:27pm

NY tax plan is disastrous for PE, absurd proposition...Cuomo is gonna get bulldozed on it too now that he has no political capital left. 

  • VP in PE - Other
Apr 6, 2021 - 11:14am

I think others hit on a lot of the main themes in this thread. I want to do the 180 and get out; but I'm still struggling with the "then what" question. Regardless, I think it's a big combination of:

  1. Losing the in-person interaction - As others have pointed out, it's not that I placed some artificial value on the superficial get dressed up, go into the shiny midtown office, travel around the country to meet face-to-face with management teams, etc. But when you take that away, you're left being a 30 year old working non-stop and living non-stop in an 800 square foot apartment by yourself for the large majority of the day. Results in a lot of mental questioning of "what's the point". Losing the soft-benefits of finance or in-person work in general really strips the job back to just the nuts and bolts of what it is, and it's not that exciting. I think once you get back to that in-office comradery, random fun happy hours or degenerate nights out with co-workers, being able to shoot the shit with people - then some of that "what's the point" thinking will subside a bit
  2. Going along with this; when you are just looking at the day-in and day-out of the work itself which we've been doing for over a year now, you realize it's just not that interesting. Why am I sitting and just starting at a computer screen for 10+ hours a day creating nothing and building nothing? What true happiness does reviewing associate models and PPTs bring me? Aren't there so many more interesting things I could be doing with my time than this? The list goes on
  3. The WFH culture point stands, and is tied into both 1 and 2. In addition to "what true happiness does reviewing associate models and PPTs bring me", you start looking upwards as well. What do you find? Your MDs with full families are also just sitting in their home offices for 10+ hours a day doing the same thing (albeit with nicer home offices). Yeah, maybe they can be more rigid in carving out a few hours of uninterrupted personal / family time each day, but you realize that there isn't some magical light at the end of the tunnel. It's going to be the same shit for the next 10, 15, 20 years - just with more money

As someone who's been in the industry for the last ~10 years post college, and is now married with a first kid on the way, I've continuously been feeling like this isn't the way to live life. The "prestige" means absolutely nothing - 98% of people do not understand or care about your job. Sure, the money is good and would get better, but what does that really matter? I think mid-level people who have made and saved a decent chunk of change are thinking 5 - 15 years in the future and coming to the realization that there are so many more interesting things to be doing with your life in 2021, and a lot of things that can provide you with a more than sufficient lifestyle but with significantly more time for family / friends / etc. The challenge (for me) is coming up with a good solution of what do be doing, when all you've been doing for the last 10 years is moving numbers around on a screen.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Apr 6, 2021 - 3:45pm

How do you feel moving to corpdev whether for a portco or f500. I've heard anecdotally that the best time do so is around Vp/director. 

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Apr 6, 2021 - 6:25pm

Great points. Maybe consider joining an early stage startup or even starting your own startup with someone else? You could even acquire a smaller business outright. With that many years in PE I'd imagine you have enough money to step away and re-evaluate. 

  • Works at Goldman Sachs
Apr 13, 2021 - 8:01pm

Idk I fully disagree with this thread wfh has been amazing I've just constantly been traveling broken my lease and have been with 1-2 friends getting absurdly nice rentals in different cities with gorgeous weather. I've never traveling so much. Yes I've had terrible weeks but you just hunker down and push through. Other than that it's been amazing going from Miami to aspen to Mexico to la etc. And finance has enabled that - being able to afford the travel and frankly the type of places we've been staying in

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  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen
Apr 14, 2021 - 1:51am

I will echo what everyone else has said - I have never been much for the glamor, but it definitely helped keep me locked in, even if I didn't notice. However, COVID opened my eyes to the following:

  1. My firm views everyone as disposable, no matter the circumstance: I am regarded as a top performer on my team, but when March/April of 2020 hit they were discussing cuts and sending around the "cover our asses" HR emails of "we may be forced to make difficult decisions" warnings. When things started picking up, I was expected to cancel every plan, never be offline, etc.. In that sense, I realized my team viewed me as a math equation, and yeah, maybe I was naive earlier on, but I made me realize a lot of these "mentors" I had looked up to didn't care about me as much as I initially thought. Very much an exposure of true colors.
  1. The work is pretty damn uninteresting. I work at BB, and quite frankly, most of our clients are sophisticated enough to conduct most of the interesting work themselves and just need us to do the paperwork. Our "value add" was our willingness to do whatever they wanted. I understand that no job involves coming up with creative, innovative schools of thought 100% of the time, but certainly there are careers that involve more thought and value creation than what I'm doing now. Hell, even for careers that pay similarly low dividends in the area of "spiritual fulfillment", they at least won't have you online 24/7 working with these personalities.
  1. The realization that the top levels don't get much "sexier" in terms of work. Yes, all entry-level jobs are unenjoyable, but I saw myself losing a lot of motivation when I realized my VPs and MDs, who have children of their own, still signing off at 1AM only to be back at it 6 hours later. This for me, was the straw that broke the camel's back. I live with my girlfriend, who I love dearly, and want to have a family with her. The past several months, she has essentially been taking care of me: she cooks, gets my dry cleaning, etc.. I, however, felt extremely guilty about this. She works 60 hours a week on average, and because she has been so busy taking care of me, she has had to sacrifice a lot. I realized that this would only improve marginally on the more senior levels and that we would not be living out a true partnership under these circumstances.

Very recently, I was involved as a groomsman in my friend's wedding. I noticed how much happier he was than me; he was closer with his family, still had a good job, was in much better shape, etc.. It was difficult for me to get through my speech at the reception, and perhaps regrettably, I was a tad jealous of how much more he had grown as an individual than I had, even though by commonly accepted societal standards I was "winning" more in life.

Fast-forward to this month and I proposed to my girlfriend. She said yes. Happiest day of my life. I later resigned from my job after accepting a new role (am taking a pay-cut to move to a role with better WLB, while still making very strong income relative to my age). Second happiest day of my life.

For the first time in about a year, I'm excited to wake up tomorrow.

TLDR: Do I regret this path? Not necessarily. It has given me relative financial freedom at an age earlier than most, but I am perhaps, in a strange way, more grateful for this past year, which gave me the shock that resulted in the opportunity to reevaluate what is most important to me in life. Cheers!

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen
Apr 21, 2021 - 1:17pm

Going to be doing strategic work going forward. The role is sort of a mix of traditional corporate development and operations work. Pay is ~$125k total comp, so again, absurdly good for someone only a few years removed from college. I will admit that I was offered a promotion to associate at my current bank, so the foregone salary I'm giving up is pretty significant, but I'm happy to be done with 100 hour weeks (which has been the standard in my group for the past 11 months). The new role gave me some time off so I could travel and do some wedding planning with the future Mrs., and I couldn't imagine this flexibility in banking. However, I don't think I would've been able to land my next role if it weren't for IB (although my current role has several people from MBB and T2 consulting firms as well, but it's not like those jobs are easy to land, either. Basically trying to say it was important for me to have what is considered a "highly desirable" job at out of college as my first role).

I will admit, there are some people that genuinely enjoy the deal-making process, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it's just not for me. Contrary to what many people on this forum preach (particularly the "prospects") there is no "right" way to live life; I think the key to happiness is all about knowing what you value and making informed decisions accordingly. I don't have a very high standard of living, and PE doesn't excite me as much. I value having significant responsibility at work, but also appreciate autonomy over my own personal time (which financial services does not offer much of, especially in the WFH era). A lot of my non-IB college friends act like anyone in financial services is "greedy", but I wouldn't call that the case. Yes, on average, the personality in financial services are more difficult to deal with, but they just value things differently. I think if everyone just allowed people to practice different values, provided the pursuit of those values does not cause direct harm to others, instead of trying to constantly preach a supposed "superior" way of living, we could live in a much happier and cooperative world.

Apr 18, 2021 - 12:04pm

Anecdotally, I left a BB during the pandemic for a high ranking operational role at a pretty prominent early stage start up. I've received at least one message a week from former colleagues (including a fair number at VP level and above) about how I went about the transition and for more info about what my role is now. Based on what I'm hearing, a much larger group of people are now looking at operational roles rather than going to the buyside. I don't know if its perceived WLB (start ups are 24/7..., corp roles at incumbents are much chiller), possibility of better culture, wanting to have more impact, smaller organizations, etc., but it has been interesting to note. 

From the people that have been forthcoming, it seems like for juniors the biggest complaint is that COVID has exacerbated their lack of autonomy and feelings of being micromanaged. For seniors, it seems all of them have always thought about leaving the sell side but never acted on it, and now feel ready? Not sure what to make of that. 

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Apr 18, 2021 - 4:38pm

What's your role, if you don't mind sharing. I've heard startups don't necessarily look at bankers for operating roles (product, marketing, etc.,), how'd you overcome this if at all?

Apr 20, 2021 - 4:19pm

Left right after A2A. Base was same/slightly higher, bonus obviously much lower, but also got equity so if we are successful either a wash or comes out as more. Pay structure and incentives in start ups are very different. 

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
Apr 19, 2021 - 1:21pm

100% agree with the OP, been hearing about and seeing so much attrition at every level - most people I know personally who quit are junior but have heard about more mid / senior level people leaving too

some personal thoughts to share...

(1) COVID seems to have sped up a lot of people's life plans in general...heard a few stories of people who always wanted to be closer to home and the pandemic basically helped them realize why not pull the trigger now. Usually our weeks just roll on and there might be a lot of life changes you talk about making e.g. children, family planning, relocating and etc., but there's never a pause or perfect time to do these things. The pandemic sort of put a societal pause on basically everything and create the perfect window for people to make what can seem like transformational changes to their lives.

(2) The economics are just not that compelling compared to what is sacrificed for that. Seems like all threads agree that in high finance you can have a very very comfortable life in the end, but at what cost? Select shops or jobs might be different but for the most part, high finance is a perpetual sweatshop all the way to the senior levels. You're most likely sacrificing your best years, literally, and then you end up being 30 and scrambling to pull it together and have a family...and then continue grinding. All the missed life experience and etc., just doesn't check out against the $550k - $3mm paycheck you're probably getting. From where I'm sitting, I see A LOT of unhappy and unsuccessful people in my personal opinion...if you're never able to see your children, can't ever travel for leisure, or have a hobby, or just LIVE LIFE I've started to think that's sort of being a loser rather than winner. For the general life cost of doing this job, I don't think $1mm of TC is enough anymore, especially on a post-tax basis and considering how much inflation has increased prices of things in general.

(3) Straight up, there's not an earthshattering difference between the lifestyle of someone who makes like $250k vs. that of someone who makes $500k...there is a difference i think in the small stuff, but that delta is not what gets you an extra mansion or feeds perpetual first-class international travel...

(4) Thus, I think the ultimate question is not whether or not finance is good or bad, the real question is whether the best people should stay in finance. I personally think there's a lot of value to be had from starting your career in banking and then doing some PE and etc., but at what point does it become negative rather than positive to stay in this industry. With the banking / PE experience you can definitely network and move into other roles in a variety of other industries, even beyond VC / growth / frequently discussed jobs on this forum...and make a very comfortable salary while having a lifestyle that affords you the opportunity to enjoy your life.

Apr 19, 2021 - 4:18pm

Other than a side-hustle-turned-side-business or corp dev, what are other "off-ramp" ideas that folks have contemplated? I have to imagine Corporate America (broad generalization) does not offer the sort of mental engagement that OP alluded to. I always worry about grass is greener effect.

Prior vent posts have highlighted that individuals working in nonprofit / politics have similar levels of career frustration without the flexibility of high compensation to buy their way out of the monotony (e.g. nice stuff, nice trips, etc).  

  • Analyst 2 in RE - Comm
Apr 19, 2021 - 5:55pm

May not be the path that most people on this website "want" to hear, but I've seen some successful bankers/traders/etc go into PWM and be successful. The benefit is that if you can partner up with an established team, or grind for a few years, you can wind up doing pretty well after a little while without the endless hours. Obviously this path isn't "easy" but I've seen it done multiple times, and the hours/comp in PWM can be pretty sweet. 

  • Summer Associate in IB - Ind
Apr 19, 2021 - 6:14pm

This is my long-term goal. Do you know what type of comp they got joining a team? What level were they in IB when they left?

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Apr 20, 2021 - 10:25pm

Have seen a number of associates exit at my shop over the past 6-12 months.  Not all that shocking given the sentiments above. 

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