MBB vs Quant at IBank

Hi Guys,

I have an engineering BSc and I will finish a STEM MSc at a top target in UK (Oxbridge) in a few months and it's time to start looking into jobs. I am interested in both consulting (ideally MBB - I would apply to my home country in continental Europe) and quant finance (London): my master places well into both but I want to understand which field is better for me and focus 100% on getting an offer in that area.

An important premise: although I am good at maths/coding I am not a genius, like I am not an IMO medalist (like some of my oxbridge classmates which were child prodigies and have 160 IQ) so, although I did very well in some classes (e.g. numerical PDEs) I struggled in the pure math courses.

My initial idea was to work as a quant for a couple of years now that my quant skills are sharp and eventually do an MBA and transition into consulting. However, I think that there will be a lot of variance in my MSc grades, like very high grades in some courses and very low ones in others, which I fear will preclude me admission to the best MBAs, so I am starting to think that if I want to do consulting I should do it now. 

The pros of consulting are: potentially more varied/interesting work, better exit opportunities and the fact that although people are very smart, they are not fields-medal smart so I have more confidence that I would be able to progress well on the job.

Quant finance involves coding and maths (which I like) and seems intellectually stimulating but: the career progression is bogus (seems like most people get stuck at vp level making £200k, which is a lot of money, but less than consulting seniors), seems like the work might get repetitive after some time, and the people are all stem guys with PhDs from top schools so I fear it might be like during my MSc where I was good but not one of the best (in other words, I don't think I would be able to make MD in quant finance).

I am more inclined towards consulting but I guess my main concern is how much I would like the nature of the job (I would not want to let all my maths/coding skills deteriorate and then realize that I want to go back to something technical). Thanks in advance for any input!

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Comments (17)

Jun 8, 2021 - 10:14am

You're struggling with the choice because it is two very good options. I myself have a maths degree from a decent uni and went into accounting, when I had a chance to do data. That is because I hate problem solving, so I wanted smth non technical form the start. For you, I feel like you like the technical side, so why not start out in a quant type role and further down the line I am sure you will be able to switch into consulting without the MBA.

Whether you can switch into MBB for example I could not tell you.

Jun 10, 2021 - 4:44am

Yeah, I totally agree with what you said. My plan in fact was to start in something technical and eventually switch to something more vanilla afterwards through an MBA. Switching to MBB from a quant job is not easy at all as the skills required are quite different. I have seen quite a few quants go into software engineering but I've never come across someone who went to MBB (possibly because not many want to do it).

Btw, in hindsight, are you happy with your choice to go into something non technical? 

Jun 10, 2021 - 12:09am

What is your end goal? That'll dictate this move more than your current ability to do either job.

Jun 10, 2021 - 4:40am

To be honest I don't really know, I guess 10yrs down the line I'd like to be someone who is good at his job and who enjoys it, possibly making decent money in it. I was focusing on my ability to do the job because I have always thought that to enjoy something you have to get at least decently good at it.

If I were to do consulting I would probably either try to make partner or go into a strategy group for a tech company (with the idea of one day starting my own company being always in the back of my mind). On the other end, if I go into quant finance I guess I would spend my career working for a bank/HF/AM. I realize that these paths are very different in nature but they both seem interesting to me.

Jun 11, 2021 - 10:15pm

Got it. I think if you've even got the slightest itch to maybe have your own company down the road, I'd take the consulting gig. It'll help you understand business on a more holistic level and is a better start than going quant off the bat if it isn't a focus for you. Easier to switch into that later than to go into the business side of things down the road. 

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Jun 10, 2021 - 5:34am

If your end goal via either route is to be a consultant, just start in consulting.   

I work with quants at a bank, a lot of them have phds but some just have masters, but to be honest their job is very much supporting the traders, building models, building pricers etc etc i wouldn't consider it a glamorous job by any means. Being a quant trader is a bit different and would be more exciting (with much more upside in pay as well).  

Why not just recruit for both and make the decision based on where you get an offer?

Jun 10, 2021 - 9:30am

Thanks for the input. A few days ago, I was speaking to a S&T director who works at a BB in London and he told me very similar things about quants, that they are mostly supporting the traders nowadays and that much of the modelling work (e.g. building pricing engines) has been done in the past and the job is much more about maintenance/minor improvements now. 

But yes, even though I usually prefer to focus on one thing and do that well (especially since in this case the interview prep is quite different), I think I will apply for both kind of jobs and see what I get

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  • Summer Associate in Consulting
Jun 10, 2021 - 9:54am

Keep in mind that quant at a IB is USUALLY not the same as the prestigious quant jobs that rake it in. I say usually because I know of one very selective group at a BB IB that does real quant trading, but most jobs that are titled quant are really just more back office support roles for traders, which sucks. I went through the recruiting process for both quant at IB and quant trading at quant shops (thing 2 sigma, optiver) and the interviews were infinitely harder at known quant shops. Didnt get an offer from quant shops but got multiple BB IB quant offers (non-trading). If your options are quant trading vs MBB its a tougher question, but if your options are MBB vs IB Quant, then MBB is the way to go for sure (unless you really hate the idea of consulting). 

Jun 10, 2021 - 6:25pm

Thanks, very insightful answer. Yes, I was referring to desk quant at an IB (specifically the rotational quantitative associate programs) not quant trading. So you had a math/CS background and from your name I guess that you went into consulting in the end, may I ask you how you are liking it so far. I guess my main fear with consulting is that it might turn out to be not very analytical/rigorous. Any thoughts on this?

Jun 11, 2021 - 1:34am

generalist consulting at mbb will be much less mathematically rigorous than quant - it doesnt require much more than basic algebra and excel. but it may be worth looking into the advanced data science groups at mbb e.g. bcg gamma and mck quantumblack - these might suit your interests more while still giving you exposure to consulting work. otherwise, i think you need to figure out whether technical work is something you want to do for a career, or if youre more interested in business strategy and operations generally. quant and consulting are ultimately very different roles with different career paths and exit options. 

if you want to minimize regret, i think itll be easier to move from mbb to quant vs the other way around. at the same time, perhaps the data science groups at mbb are the best fit for your interests

  • Summer Associate in Consulting
Jun 12, 2021 - 2:41pm

Hey again. Sorry for late reply. I'm actually a summer associate at an MBB (from undergrad) and have just started work/training this past week, so I have no idea how it compares. I imagine it is nowhere near as analytically rigorous as they hire from a breadth of backgrounds. I know there are more analytically heavy projects so you can definitely gravitate towards those if you'd like, but its still going to be modeling with algebra and basic stats (?) at the end of the day.

I actually disagree with the other person who responded as I think it would be easier to move from quant to MBB – the key word being easier, not easy. The reason I believe this is because quant roles are looking for math/cs skills and you cant show that through MBB work experience where you can show analytical experience through quant if you want to move to MBB.

I agree with the person above that this would probably make you a stronger fit for BCG Gamma or a similar group. I'm not sure if your program places into MBB data analytics groups so that might be something to look into. Seems like a great place to start doing some DD though :) !

Jun 15, 2021 - 2:54pm

Building off another comment, I'd highly consider a BCG Gamma type position. That group is very well respected within BCG and it's a great blend of your skillset. I will note that the career progression is different, but this is a great thing for some. It isn't up or out in the strict sense that the traditional route is. You do have to progress at some point, but it can be much slower.

Jun 16, 2021 - 3:26am

Thanks for the input. Do you know how is the compensation progression like in the analytics groups at MBB with respect to the traditional consulting route? And also, how difficult is it to move between the two groups (e.g. vanilla consultant -> analytics and vice versa)?

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