Life after high finance

I'm sure that COVID has shaken up the professional side of our lives for many on this board (for better or for worse), which presumably has led to some choosing to leave high finance as a career altogether. While I'm still in IB and genuinely enjoy many aspects of the job (particularly from the perspective of a future coverage officer), I'm sure that many can appreciate it's an all-consuming role not just in your earlier years, but throughout your career. I've rose through the ranks fairly quickly (well-positioned for an accelerated VP promo) and have a ton of autonomy within my group, however the job itself has become fairly monotonous as a junior banker. Coupled with the fact that the MD role is almost a decade away, I'm beginning to question whether or not the proverbial carrot I'm chasing is truly as fruitful as I've mentally depicted it out to be.

The bigger challenge for me is figuring out what next if I do choose to leave IB. I understand it's a rhetorical question as I'd be the only person capable of answering what I'm looking for out of a career, but I've been so head down on the job that candidly I haven't given this question much of a thought until recently. I've sacrificed a ton of hobbies over the years, and am in a position where I'm not sure what I genuinely enjoy anymore (personally and professionally).

Not interested in PE (skill-set / personality better fit for sell-side, plus IB 2.0 from a lifestyle perspective), and think corporate roles are too slow-paced and have other trade-offs that are a fairly big consideration (slow promotion timelines, significant pay cut, etc.). I'm mainly hoping for feedback from seasoned finance professionals who are 4-10 years out of school. Some questions to hopefully spark a discussion:

  • At what point in your career did you leave high finance? What are you currently working in?
  • Did you have a fundamental change in your values (i.e. what you're looking for out of a career / life in general) at any point, and if so, when? 
  • In retrospect, was the decision a right one (all things considered, i.e. comp, lifestyle, etc.)
  • Holistically, are you happier today vs. when you worked in high finance?
  • For those that have had a significant lifestyle change (i.e. less hours), how are you spending the additional free time?

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Comments (23)

Jan 10, 2022 - 4:58pm

Think that you may be boxing in the corporate roles too much. What you're describing sounds like a F500 where you work 20 years to get a director role. If you're at a smaller firm that it is very busy constantly looking at transformative deals, you can find yourself pretty engaged with deal flow, rapidly rising in the ranks, and at the same time not over-worked. It might mean just looking for the right fit and at smaller firms with lean teams.

Jan 10, 2022 - 5:36pm

Thanks for the feedback. The key issue is I'm a coverage banker in a fairly niche industry (mining) - it would be a fairly big pivot to do something in i.e. tech where majority of the growth is today, and quite frankly what I'd enjoy more from a corporate strategy perspective. I looked at various avenues in my coverage industry, and unfortunately majority of the acquisitive companies are large-cap, slow-moving machines similar to F500. I also don't come from a technical background so while I have a strong grasp of mine finance, the operational side of things is still a fairly steep learning curve. If I stay in IB though, have no interest in pivoting out of my current coverage universe.

Jan 11, 2022 - 11:31pm

I don't think switching industries is as big of a jump as you might think. I had never done anything substantial in tech (between IB/PE) prior to joining a tech company. Come to think of it, neither did my boss. Clearly it would be ideal to stay within an industry where you have a lot of foundational knowledge, but I really don't think it's necessary - just have a good story for why.

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Jan 10, 2022 - 5:27pm

In the exact same boat. I got the accelerated A2A and have been at it for 5 years with a clear VP path now, but the past year+ has been unbearable. The part I enjoy most about IB is the biz development/salesy side of the business and my ability to travel and attend in-person meetings has obviously been diminished post-COVID. Additionally, one of the things that got me through the analyst years was BS'ing in the bullpen with the other juniors - some of my best friends are from my analyst class. Don't get me wrong, I don't miss being in the office till midnight every night but without the social aspect of IB it's just not worth it to me and I have no interest in corp dev or an investor role. 

I'll be taking a leap and going the PWM route after bonuses hit. Read some of thebrofessor posts and decide if that could be for you (sounds like it could be). If that's not your speed any sort of high-ticket/consultative sales role should fit well with what you're looking for. 

Jan 10, 2022 - 5:40pm

Thanks for the feedback, very helpful. I agree a sales oriented role i.e. PWM / tech sales would be very interesting. Money used to be an afterthought for me until I got a mortgage, which is one of my key concerns about starting as a junior in PWM (understand compensation scales pretty generously at the senior level as long as you're good at what you do). I think I need to clear at minimum $120 - $150K to service my mortgage while not living like a bum, so unfortunately it crosses off a number of options (unless you tell me otherwise).

Regarding personal interest, I just find it tough to get excited about selling a product in a role i.e. tech sales vs. an equity story like you do in IB. I've considered RE as well, and again just can't get excited about properties. I love IB for all it's worth, but am slowly realizing that a 20 year grind and only having my professional career to show for it in life may not be worth it. 

Jan 10, 2022 - 6:30pm

I hear you on the PWM comp front, definitely a risk. After 5 years in IB I've got the $ saved up to give myself a runway until I can make comp back up. I justify it as a lot of my peers are leaving now to go spend $200k+ on an MBA, I'm viewing the next two years as my financial advisor "MBA" that will hopefully set me up to pay dividends long term. Biggest piece of advice is to look at successful senior people in whatever field you choose to go into next. I looked at our MDs and none of them can coach or let alone attend their kids sporting events, most looked miserable and burnt out. I look at the top PWM guys in my city and they spend half their time taking calls at their beach house and set their own schedule. I understand most don't get there but I'm willing to bet on myself and try, better than continuing to be miserable in this profession just for a steady paycheck. Glad I had the IB experience but it's time for me to move on. 

Jan 10, 2022 - 6:35pm

I'll also add that high-ticket sales can be broader than tech. Saw you're in a mining coverage group, heavy equipment sales reps can make bank. On the financial side there's dedicated biz dev guys in both PE and AM that do very well. Bottom line is you won't expect to see that high comp you want if you're not in a revenue generating role or work your way up into an executive team somewhere. 

Jan 11, 2022 - 2:02pm

I don't recommend this for everyone because most people really don't need it, but maybe consider getting your MBA, minimally prep for it and go through a round of apps to see if you get anywhere good with scholarship. If you are seriously thinking about transitioning out of finance but are worried your coverage background is holding you back an MBA is one of the best ways to transition to a different industry (while taking two years to chill). I'd definitely test the waters first to see if your background is actually holding you back vs your own conceptions, but getting a degree to transition to a job you're actually interested in is worth the time and money (plus, life is about so much more than just your paycheck, if you're living a shitty life it doesn't matter how much money you're making). 

Jan 11, 2022 - 2:24pm

Formerly spent 10 years in IB, and I think a PE-backed operating role could be just what you seek. More fast paced than a sleepy corporate, but hours top out around 60 rather than 80-90. Can also make money close to banking if you are granted equity options. 

"I don't know how to explain to you that you should care about other people."

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Jan 11, 2022 - 3:36pm

It wouldn't hurt to have industry experience, but plenty of people with good M&A/modeling experience can lateral into a new industry and excel.

"I don't know how to explain to you that you should care about other people."

Jan 13, 2022 - 10:26am

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