Leaving IB Soon, Final Rants
I'll be on holidays very soon and I am happy to finally say that I have managed to find a good buy-side opportunity and will be giving my notice once I return.
I understand that a lot of PE firms are just banking 2.0 and also that lifestyle won't be absolutely amazing, but wanted to talk about a few things that I found to be ridiculous during my 2.5 years across two investment banks. I think this is at least partially the reason why a lot of junior staff in investment banks are disgusted about the culture, and also why you get those results from that survey.
At least for me, reading about how other juniors face the same hardship and being able to 'vent out' online anonymously (without taking the risk of some idiot co-worker spreading the word for politics) together was quite helpful to control the rage. So, to vent out one final time (famous last words):
1. The Classic 'Overkill'
The whole IB working system is built around a simple system: juniors prepare the materials that seniors need for their meetings. Modelling, aligning logos, updating market stats, you name it - ultimately that's all work to equip the MD with the right talking points during a bake-off, catch-up or a 'discussion'.
Problem here is that there are loads of seniors that are insecure about their ability to talk about a topic without a 40 page appendix in case someone asks for a number. Also, there's the breed that wants 10 charts to send across one message. Ok, we get it - it's a low interest environment. Do we really need 15 different variations of interest rates for last 25 years, with labels colored accordingly and lines with 10-year averages? And we need to update this chart again because meeting got pushed by a week? Basically asking for two rocket-launchers, 3 heavy machine guns and 50 hand grenades to go hunting for a rabbit. How stupid is that?
I've worked on quite a few decks where we have a section of 'potential opportunities', filled with quarter-slide profiles that no one will ever look at. Sometimes there were 20-30 pages like this. For christ's sake, why are we still doing this? Some say competition between banks / IB becoming a commodity but I don't buy that explanation - as if some MD was explicitly told that his/her book was too thin and needed to have 30 extra slides that they won't look at, right? Every person that I know who made a transition to a client says the same thing. I've once been told that for these random pitches, they send an internal blast asking who's free during that afternoon, and they send that person in to take a quick break from work by pretending to listen to the presentation.
There is so much value lost in doing these meaningless work, and sorry, analysts are not stupid enough to live with that 'meeting went well, client very happy' b/s. I've dialed into these calls - MD spent 20 seconds on the business plan which we built with a model v182, and the client didn't ask for a follow-up. That's a screw-up in my view, in terms of both ends and means.
2. Fake, and Tight Deadlines
This one's another classic that goes without saying. I have a feeling that this worsened by a lot since WFH, because now everyone is treating every pitch / discussion like it's the next 30 billion sell-side. Because people don't see each other and the sympathy element is basically gone, seniors have started to set fake deadlines just to make sure that work gets done well before the actual date.
They also micromanage as well; 'hey, where are we with xxx' every 30 minutes gave me so much stress during my time in IB. It's like that guy that presses the pedestrian crossing button every 1.5 seconds just to make sure that the light turns green at one point. What is infuriating is that this in no way means that there are no last-minute edits. This just means 3 more rounds of comment gang-bang where you have to keep making edits on the deck until that final exclamation point that is the start of the meeting.
I'm sure everyone can relate, but sometimes these comments don't add jack shit. Like, how is changing the word 'industry' to 'market' value additive? Why am I editing the size of the footnotes 12 minutes before the presentation? And being given the 'ok, pls pdf and send' 2 minutes before people start dialing in (now you have to pdf, draft that 'please find attached' email, hit send, open the call and accept everyone)? It just feels that this has become the norm and no one finds a problem / have the guts to say that this is all a stupid circus and should really stop.
3. Dependent Seniors
Apparently when you hit VP, you lose all your fingers and cannot scroll the mouse to share the screen anymore. You also become so holy that your computer logs you out when you open excel. Of course there is that Director who still prefers to work on the model hands-on, but in so many cases people just stop doing things just because they've 'made it'.
I've been looped into calls just so I can share the screen for 2-3 hours, without given full context of what's going on, or being fully staffed. What's the point of this? For the analysts and associates, the more calls there are, more time is wasted simply taking 'notes' that no one looks at / needs, or flicking through slides. Work starts after the call ends, usually 6-7pm.
So much time is wasted in these stupid requests - sometimes you get an email with 'changes' / 'text to be incorporated into slides' where if the guy actually typed it in the PPT (where the slide has already been drafted) himself, it would be already done by now. Or, you get told to 'change the file name to xxx' in a email, which could've been done like 10 seconds earlier by the guy who sent that email.
I even had VP who sent me a link of his personal folder and told me that I am supposed to 'clean up' his folder so things belong where they are. This level of over-dependency (MDs not being able to open calls etc.) not only drives me crazy but also makes me think about how juniors are perceived within this culture, which brings me to my next point:
4. No logging Off
For those seniors who are wondering why some of your analysts don't want to come back to the office, consider this, because it's not just because they want to chill at home with their dog on their lap (although it helps). At least for me, what I feel is that now there is no real 'done for the day' moment. Before covid, when you left the office, you were done. Yes, there was some pressure that you therefore have to be in the office until quite late just to make sure all last minute tasks were covered (for me that was 12pm - 1am), but you knew you could dive into bed once you get home and forget about work for the next 7-8 hours. Those days are gone.
Now, because everyone knows that everyone has the office at their home desks, even when you leave the office people expect you to log back when you reach home. They don't care if it's 2am or 3am, because guess what, you're only <10m far away from your desk!
This is why I feel that there is a very sad future ahead for those who've just joined / will be joining in the coming years. Even when things go back to 'normal', people will expect that you log back in (or stay logged in) while at home. And this is why I would rather stick to working from home, because at least I can use my double screens to watch NBA while working late. Travelling to the office just to come back to home to finish off ? No thanks.
5. Delusional Company Initiatives
What's worse than all of this is the fact that the company keeps on signalling virtues without doing anything tangible. If they at least acknowledged the fact that their junior employees are borderline suicidal and they've managed to nurture a psychopath culture, it would at least feel better. Have you received that auto-sent email at 3am from HR while working late, telling you to 'try out yoga' or to 'drink more water' to take care of yourself?
Once we had a call with a really senior guy at the bank, and when asked what he thinks can be helpful to improve juniors mental health, the guy said that analysts should just try to set a 'log off' time, so that when the clock hits 10pm, for instance, you log off for an hour and take a break. The fact that senior management are able to say these things with a straight face can mean only two things - either they have 0 clue how they get that P&L, or that they give 0 shits about welfare and just want to make themselves feel better.
What really 'works' in my opinion, is that you set up a proper disciplinary framework where if a senior breaches certain policies (e.g. IM'ing an analyst at 3am on Friday to do something by Saturday morning for him to review, while the meeting is on next Friday) certain times, it affects their bonus. Or even worse, get fired. Sounds extreme, but if you think about it most 'normal' companies have some sort of equivalent policy regarding harassment / workplace abuse. Imagine that some Director / MD actually gets fired in one of the major banks for harassment reasons - and it gets published by FT or whatever.
That's when people will start caring - what VP or MD will suddenly become nicer and more reasonable when there are 0 drawbacks of not being so? I know this will never happen, because all banks care about is how much money seniors bring to the bank. I'm just saying if you're not willing to do this because of money, don't act like the bank is an amazing place to work, or that you're trying to make it one.
I'm sure there are countless stories/elements that you can add to the list above. In fact, I've done this so that we can at least openly communicate about what's killing you - the above were reasons why I had to cancel family trips, lost key relationships and friends, and face both physical and mental health challenges.
Thing is, despite all these points, I still love finance. And that's not just because of the many elements of the job that makes it interesting (at least to a certain degree). It's also because finance embraced me and allowed me to kick-start a career, without having to think that 'things could've been better otherwise'. It might sound really stupid, but coming from that 'target' background, the fear of not being able to be satisfied about my life after graduation under my own standards (taking on a proper path of development / being excited about my job etc.) was real, and investment banking was a challenge good enough for me to take.
We should all admit that working as an Analyst in an investment bank is still one of the top ways to start your career (from money and learning perspective), and being able to rest on that sense of comfort was something I was quite proud of (compare yourselves to many around you who are still clueless about their lives / wasting time and are feeling bad about it - you are doing really well and you should all be proud, in a good way!) All people require a sense of accommodation, belonging and acceptance, and for me, it was the finance community that gave me all this when I was lost with direction after graduating uni.
I know some will say that my job cannot / should not define who I am, but let's get real - what you do for a living is a big part of you. After all, it's one of the only things along with your name that you will bring up when you first introduce yourself. Because of this very reason, I hope that the culture in finance becomes something we can all be proud of - at least for now, I think we have a very, very long way to go.
Thanks a lot for reading all, and I look forward to any comments / stories!