Q&A: Coming to America - A Canadian in New York


Quick Background: STEM Undergrad, public tech co, Canadian MBA, Big Five Canadian IBD, now NYC BB IBD


After working a few years in a public tech co in a STEM field, I knew I wanted to make a move. The work was interesting and rewarding, but very niche and wasn't a great platform for aggressive career development. A good friend of mine from undergrad suggested it might be time to do my MBA to get into consulting.

However, after I started networking and looking at post-MBA opportunities, I realized I might be better suited for / enjoy finance. However, my resume at face value had no finance on it. I applied for the Canadian Securities Course (CSC - sort of similar to Series 79) and CFA level I to try to correct it. Spent a lot of time at Toronto Reference Library at Yonge and Bloor. Wrote the CSC exams ASAP and passed. Found out later in the summer that I passed the CFA Level I also.

I didn't know anything about finance. I was browsing career websites and WSO religiously (if you ever wonder why I post here, this is why). It was a very rough start (got dinged on a bunch of informals) because I didn't know what I was doing, but I learned quickly. Then I saw an ad from Analyst Exchange ("AnEx", now New York School of Finance or "NYSF") on WSO. There was an opportunity to do an unpaid internship in NYC. I applied and was very lucky to get a spot. Everyone in my family thought it was a scam. They thought I was crazy to pay for training and an unpaid internship.

Networking In NYC (AnEx / NYSF, Pre-MBA)

I found a roommate on Craigslist in Queen's who would let me sublet their place for the summer if I paid cash after I convinced them I wasn't a psycho. Spent the summer turning my academic knowledge of finance into practical knowledge. Translated my STEM skills into finance skills. Paul Pignataro at NYSF is phenomenal so I apologize if I sound biased, but he gave me the basis of skills that have helped me develop into who I am today.

Everyone at AnEx / NYSF spent lunch and evenings networking. I reached out to high school alum, family friends, undergrad alum and even used my MBA alum database even though I wasn't technically a student yet. This theme would continue well into my MBA school year (taking time off in December around exams, March break and even after my summer internship to visit and network in NYC).

Networking During School

During school, I would take a Greyhound bus from the Elizabeth Street Bus Terminal in Toronto to get down to New York. What an adventure! Leave at 8 pm. Get to the border around 1 am and pray to god you weren't behind someone with a red passport (usually Russia or China) who had weak command of English and didn't understand that they needed a Visa and couldn't just wander across the border.

In New York and I would stay at the Portland Square hotel on 47th between Broadway and 6th Ave., which was $109 per night with shared bathrooms right in the heart of Times Square. The window opened into the brick wall of another building (just like on TV). Portland Square hotel holds a special place in my heart. Since those MBA days, it's since been renovated to a swanky new boutique called "Sanctuary". I always fondly remember how it helped me get my start.

Years of Failure... Then Success

In the end, I didn't get anything. Financial crisis was still pretty fresh and no US firms were hiring. It wasn't until years later, after spending some time in Toronto when I decided to make the move down that I was able fire up my old contacts and find an opportunity to move down to the US.

Some quick hits on what I think help me get the success: 1. Having US work experience through AnEx / NYSF helped pique recruiter / head hunter interest. 2. Having solid work experience and good transactions under my belt made me attractive as a potential experienced (off-cycle) hire. But most importantly, 3. Credibility and playing the long game. I kept in touch with people and had build a pretty credible story of why I wanted to come down to NYC.

I could ramble about any of the particular story points above, but figured I'd open it up to a Q&A. Some parts of my story are very personal so I may respond directly via PM.

And as always, thanks WSO.

Comments (27)

Jan 25, 2016 - 1:01pm

Thanks for sharing.

As a fellow Canadian, sophomore studying engineering, what would be the best approach to getting a summer internship in NYC this summer? I know I would need firms to sponsor me for working Visa and right now I don't know enough about finance since I have not taken any courses.

However, I have done a finance internship during my freshman summer so I have that as leverage at least.

Jan 26, 2016 - 1:42am

It's a bit tricky. Sophomore programs are less popular because IBD firms in general like hiring Juniors as summers. Typically because they can place them for FT at the end of their Senior years. Some firms have diversity programs specifically targeting sophomores (as early feeder programs for juniors - not sure if that helps you - get in anyway you can).

Good news is that it's early. If you can't get IBD directly, I'd suggest getting a strong US internship that positions you well for recruiting as a junior. It will help you with my point #1 above (the US work experience). Good pitches I've heard are: I worked in corp fin / dev so I know what it's like from the client perspective, I worked in lev fin / capital markets and know the product groups really well, I worked in research so I have portable skills.

Besides getting finance skills, it answers the "would this person move for a job" question which is the first thing people think before they even get to your credentials.

Jan 25, 2016 - 1:19pm

Thanks TorontoMonkey, always enjoy reading your posts. Currently attending a target Canadian university and going into SA recruiting the upcoming year, can you compare/contrast the lifestyle differences between Big 5 vs BB IBD and TO vs NYC?

Do you have family in Toronto? What are your plans 5-10 years from now?

Jan 26, 2016 - 2:04am

These are great questions and I could probably do a whole post on each of these alone (maybe I will some other time).

In short, from the junior perspective (analyst / associate) it's NOT that much different. US deal size is just naturally larger so there is some sex appeal there. I think as you become more senior the lifestyle delta / spread is more obvious. Could just be my firm, but I feel like the senior guys are more relaxed: they are very good at what they do, have established relationships and know "where their next meal is coming from". In Canada, I felt like everyone was always scrambling to scrap up the next deal / fee (a lot more "spaghetti on the wall"). So that definitely trickles down and affects the work style of juniors (less pitches, more deals).

As for the family question: born and raised in T.O. with strong ties there. Career-wise, if all goes well I could see myself staying here (however, many of my friends who started here have moved back). Only reason I would consider moving is if there were life priorities (read: kids, parents get older). Not sure how I feel about raising children in NYC.

Jan 26, 2016 - 2:09am

Visas for laterals I explain here: http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/ibd-barriers-to-entry-for-canadia…

Visas for summer students I think you want an F-1, J or TN visa, but I'm not sure. I'd double check (I didn't actually take that route, but I've heard this anecdotally).

As for tax, you get credit for any taxes you pay to the US government so you don't get double taxed in Canada. If you have a tax short fall (say US was a 27% tax rate, but Canada was 30%) you pay the difference of 3%. It's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the big picture. If you own a house or have investments, you need to look into it more (Canadian TFSA's don't get tax free treatment in the US global income reporting, I heard if you have large gains in that account, you have to still pay US tax in CASH). There are also subtleties about how you report your status and how you should subsequently move your assets around.

Also, from a federal and state / prov. prospective NYC has slightly less tax than Toronto, ON. However, there is a Manhattan city tax that just pushes them over. So yeah, you pay more tax in Manhattan than you do in Toronto.

Feb 2, 2016 - 7:48pm

Toronto isn't in America? I thought we annexed that a few years back

Edit: Tons of butthurt Canadians on WSO. Wouldn't have guessed it, but I suppose that inferiority complex runs strong

Commercial Real Estate Developer
Jan 26, 2016 - 11:45am

The easiest answer is tenacity: I keep in touch with them over years. I also think that while I was in NYC for AnEx / NYSF, it conveyed a sense of conviction in coming down (own time / money - wanting to learn the industry).

When I was originally emailing / calling from Toronto, I got a lot of friendly replies, but hard for people to take you seriously if you aren't physically here. I think this is also true from people in other parts of the US (Chicago, LA, TX) which also have strong financial markets so the temptation to stay is strong.

Jan 30, 2016 - 5:09am

I am speculating to wether my AMA was not up to your standard, I assumed WSO members didn't have time for a long read. But looks like my assumptions were incorrect. Would you have a look at mine, let me know if I should write a paragraph or two.

Feb 2, 2016 - 12:14am

Hi TorontoMonkey, thanks for sharing the experience. I'm in Toronto as well, third year undergrad in applied math. How do you get in touch with professionals in NYC besides linkedin? It takes so much time, money and effort to be in NYC and networking...do you think it's an efficient way?

Feb 3, 2016 - 8:36am

I think you just have to physically come down. And use any school networks available to you. Canadian undergrads are actually not bad. I feel like there are a decent number of people here (usually Canadian undergrad but American MBA - use any hook you have). I feel like Canadians (and other "non-targets") are always very happy to see students from their own schools. For Canadians, I would even go so far as to say just other Canadians is a good enough hook.

It is absolutely not efficient. It's brute force and a bit clumsy to be honest, but I don't know if there is any short cut or simpler way. People want to see you down here.

Mar 9, 2016 - 5:56pm

Great question. I've worked at a large Canadian bank that liked to hire from UW / WLU for our Winterns (Winter interns). I think you guys have a off-cycle (not necessarily summer) coop stream (A stream and B stream) which means you could potentially get placed in IBD in your sophmore year (earlier than your critical junior year leading to FT). Having that experience positions you well for recruiting in general (including at US banks) if you have IBD experience going into your junior year.

My current BB NYC bank also hires Winterns, but the focus is on US schools.

Obvious disadvantages of being a Canadian Undergrad (or even MBA) in US recruiting: We are by definition "non-target". Ivey and Queens are the only schools in Canada that I know place well in the US. Proximity: networking is harder. Visas: becomes a bit tricky vs. a student at a US school who can get an OPT Visa for fulltime.

Obvious advantages: if you can network with Canadians, it's like being a non-target who found a guy from his school: the chances of making a connection are statistically lower because there are less of us, but we are heavily biased to like people who are similar to us, especially if we feel we are rare / under represented.

Mar 10, 2016 - 9:41am

Thanks for the insight! I thought I was the only person who used the term "wintern" haha.

I was also wondering if you could shed some light on the Big 5 and each of their group's strength. I'm aware RBC is regarded as the GS of Canada but how do the other banks fare and what groups are they known for?

I've heard good things about BMO's Metals & Mining team, and RBC's real estate team but I don't know much else about TD, Scotia, or CIBC. Which of them count as BB or MM?

Mar 10, 2016 - 9:43am
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