Quitting Finance

Looking back 10 years ago, when I first started in corporate finance work, I'd be pretty impressed with myself and where I got to. Despite the most garbage education possible, I managed to land in management at an F500 company, running corporate debt and investments worth billions.

My salary is solid now, with all-in comp exceeding my ambitions for myself at 40+, let alone 35. I probably make much more than most of the ER guys here. But I've increasingly felt over the past few years that I'm in the wrong game, that finance isn't the answer for my long term life satisfaction. I've switched jobs twice in the past three years. I did a stint in a very academically focused, for the public good, sort of role. Hated it. While the people were smarter the pace was so slow. Then I took a much higher profile gig at this top firm. It's starting to really grind on me. The corporate drama. The incompetent people everywhere. It's insanity. My life increasing feels like Office Space. So I want out. I don't want to go to work to execute the plans of lesser minds. I don't want to sit here on the weekend worrying about my book or my liquidity. It's not my money. I honestly just want to tune it all off. It takes away from where my focus should be, on my family and my health. I see the people ahead of me in the org chart and I despise how they've sold themselves out to the corporate vision and sacrifice so much for a heartless entity that wouldn't hesitate for half a second to punt their asses to the curb. It's disgusting.

At this point, I'm not sure where I will go, other than it's going to be out of the business. This is my resolution if you will. Thankfully, we are a solid two-income house, and we live far under our means… We can survive off one income indefinitely with no lifestyle impact. So we have flexibility. But I do still like making serious coin, so at some point (sooner, not later), I'd like to build back up to this level of income. It will be hard to walk away after investing 10 years in this career path, but the thought of sitting in that office for the rest of my life plugging away for a mindless corporation of brain-dead syncophants is far more disturbing. Maybe I make another switch to another firm, try working for maybe a small outfit or start up… As a last test of my interest in staying with finance. Or maybe I do like others have joked about here for years: become a plumber. Who knows. But the resolution remains, something needs to give. I start working towards a new direction today. It's not so much the subject matter of finance that turns me off… I'm still deeply interested in markets and I'll continue to invest and research for my own book. But the work environment in your typical corporate finance group, and even worse, what I see from bankers, is just not my cup of tea anymore.

Anyone else sick of the grind in this field? Sick of the corporate drama? Anyone try to bail out and come back? How do career switchers shake the golden handcuffs?

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Comments (47)

  • Associate 1 in RE - Comm
Feb 18, 2021 - 4:08pm

Interesting post. Sometimes I wonder if the F500 world is any less toxic than IB / PE / HF. This post makes me doubt it.

I don't have any input as I'm not looking to leave the RE or finance world - I genuinely enjoy it.

Also this is WSO, how much you making in your F500 role?

Feb 19, 2021 - 11:09am

I generally think that unless you are at the top of your industry AKA (Group head in banking,  PM in HF, Principal in PE or C suit/high VP in the Corporate world) and have control it is always going to be difficult to navigate the culture of any firm. 

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Feb 19, 2021 - 1:08pm

I doubt that's true. My dad is in the C-suite of a top long-only AM. While he doesn't complain about the gig (has been in the role for more than 5 years now), from the sounds of it,  it seems like the culture isn't too good. Even though there are bad apples you can't just remove them because of all the red-tapes and politics. 

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Feb 19, 2021 - 2:06pm

you should definitely be able to hit this if you excel in a career pivot. i had similar thinking to you when i was getting out of grad school -- if something was going to be compelling enough for me to leave fuh-nance which i fucking hated, i needed to be on track to hit above $200k after 3 years with a possibility to make serious bank down the road.

i lucked out with company equity that i'm clearing above 200k in my first year transitioning but this shouldn't be too tough if you pick a growing industry and function that drives value for that industry

Feb 18, 2021 - 6:31pm

Have you looked at trying to save/earn as much as possible now and retire early? Could be worth looking into.

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

Feb 18, 2021 - 9:43pm

Pierogi Equities

Have you looked at trying to save/earn as much as possible now and retire early? Could be worth looking into.

Not really.  With the cost of private health insurance, it's not worth retiring fully in my opinion.  Even those I know who could retire, work a bit simply to remain occupied while retaining benefits.

Array

Feb 18, 2021 - 7:09pm

Time to start your own business - be your own manager - take all the profits for yourself.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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Feb 19, 2021 - 8:15pm

Been starting a business for two years, not as easy as a comment on WSO. Ive been doing this while working full time so it's better if you have 80 hours a week to spend on it.

That said, of course a business is very risky, but more importantly it can be years of cash drain. So before doing that, best consider if you can fund it with an easy 9-5, and grind the remaining 40 hours on on it until you can fly on your own. F500 seems like a good move, especially if OP isn't interested in getting promoted (which seems he's not)

  • Associate 1 in RE - Comm
Feb 18, 2021 - 10:50pm

Is the problem truly finance? Or is it the places you've worked?

I can't imagine treasury at every F500 is a toxic cesspool.
 

I've worked in real estate for a few years but my experience so far could be 100% different from someone with the exact same job title and responsibilities. It all comes down to who you work for / with. I think you might just be unlucky in terms of landing places with poor culture 

Feb 19, 2021 - 12:08pm

WolfofWSO I get it 100%.  Due to serving in the military I am a few years behind you in terms of my current position, but I see a similar light.  I am set to take over a couple billion $ in AUM when the gentleman I work under retires, but it is something I can't taste.  And as exciting as that day will be I just know it will be a few months before I feel the same way I do now, if not worse.  The problem is finding something interesting to do.  Anything in finance looks like absolute trash through my lens now.  I'm a big guy so plumbing looks uncomfortable, but being a train conductor seems satisfying.

Only two sources I trust, Glenn Beck and singing woodland creatures.
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Feb 20, 2021 - 1:20pm

Invest in real estate ... get yourself a few investment/rental properties .. build it to the point where you can get a steady cash flow coming in every month .. with your income and savings it should be doable within a few years .. After that you can take time off and decide what you want to do next .. 

Feb 20, 2021 - 1:56pm

Great post OP - I could relate to a lot of what you wrote. I'm 31, work in PE as an associate and make $250k+. Like you, this is well beyond the earning potential I could have imagined for myself at 21, and I greatly enjoy a lot of the work.

The flip-side though - I'm going to struggle to make VP, and after working in IB/PE for 7+ years the internal politics/bs work is really starting to get to me. I think this has become particularly acute during the pandemic, when it's "all work no play" - having to play politics with higher-ups and run all sorts of bs analysis/sensitivities that are so obviously going nowhere has started to grate. At one point I began to question whether I really enjoy the work, and is this what I want to do with the rest of my life.

However in counter to that, I realized I really do enjoy the work generally - and ultimately while I hate the internal politics etc as much as you OP, I sadly think this will be the same everywhere to some extent. The only exception would be setting up your own business - and by all means, if you have a potentially great idea for a business then I would say go for it. But I know a lot of my college friends in their late 20s/early 30s are working in more junior F500 roles earning $100k or less - and while they have to deal with considerably less pressure, from the sound of it they are still exposed to the internal corporate machinations that you despise so much. OP - imagine doing your current role on $100k and how much worse that could feel.

Like you, I also struggle with the chronic stress - i.e. I'm able to handle myself very adeptly in intense high-pressure situations, but the constant stress of worrying about how your portfolio companies/deals are performing means it can be hard to relax on weekends (as you mentioned). But then ultimately we're getting paid relatively well compared to the general population - and on balance personally I would prefer to have high-stress/high-reward rather than a low-pressure job that pays much less (up to you if you feel the same OP).

So what I would say is - think about it carefully before you decide to jack it all in. If it's what you really want then by all means go for it - but as others have said, I think the sad reality may be that most companies/firms (including those outside of the finance world) will have similar levels of internal political bs etc. So you may end up swapping your current role for one which ultimately has a similar level of downside but without the same level of pay.

Of course as I said setting up your own business/being an entrepreneur is a way to "get it all" - but that requires having a great business idea (which myself sadly I don't have and probably never will, I've come to accept that).

Good luck in whatever you decide OP.

Feb 20, 2021 - 5:48pm

Yeah I'd agree with that - at the more junior levels. Caveat being that I haven't myself worked at F500, however I have college friends in F500 roles and of course worked with finance people at numerous large corporations during my IB days.

I think at the junior (under 7-10yrs experience) level, I would fully agree with you - seems like F500 is considerably more easygoing/relaxed in terms of leaving at 5 on Friday to grab beers, almost never having any weekend work etc.

However at the mid/senior levels, whilst you won't be working as much as a VP in IB, if you want to progress in the company you will likely start having to navigate the internal politics/be thinking about work in a lot of your free time (even if you're not actually working late in the evening/weekend etc). At least that's my impression. 

Feb 21, 2021 - 1:59pm

Do you agree or disagree with the notion that at least in F500 corporate you can unplug from all of the politics more than in IB/PE? I always thought that was the case and you could decompress from all of the nonsense through after-work hobbies and friend groups but maybe not...

Like everything else, your mileage may vary, but in my experience not really.  The two most recently publicly held corporations I was at were an easy 50+ hours of facetime a week with the unwritten rule that you pick up the phone should an email pop off during the weekend.  I had my headphones in while mowing the lawn one sunny Saturday and my phone rang with my boss on the caller ID.  He wanted an ad hoc profitability analysis done on products we offer (something I had never done) and wanted it that day.  I ask if it can wait until Monday.  He says, no, the CFO is meeting the CEO on Sunday to prep for business development meeting on Monday.  Needless to say I rolled into the office in shorts and a T shirt to bang it out.  This was years ago, but at this despicable organization, the notion of, "There are a line of new MBAs out the door begging to be in your chair, better protect your turf" was constantly echoing around the inner sanctum.  There was not a bonus pool to strive for, there was the threat of firing that was instilled like the PRC rank and yank system.

Before anyone says, "50 hours a week, I remember my first part time job." know that I was a grunt who got straight salary without any incentive/bonus at the end of the year to gun for.  I signed up to work at the joint for a work life balance and found the grass wasn't any greener from the PE backed private company I was at prior.  

There are probably less politics for afterhours/weekend obligations, but there are not zero.

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