Q&A: Senior Banker

Haven't been active on the site in awhile.  WSO is a great resource but the amount of misinformation shared is high, which I guess shouldn't be surprising given the target age cohort of the site.  Hoping to provide some new perspectives.  AMA

  • Bio
    • Entered banking as a post-MBA associate
    • Currently highest titled non-group head role (think Partner / SMD / MD depending on the bank)
    • Have lived in SF, Chicago, and NY during my banking career and live in one of those cities currently
    • ~40yo with a family
  • Background
    • Currently at a boutique and have worked at both BB and MM previously
      • I consider boutiques to be the more established, broad-based advisory firms (Moelis, Lazard, Evercore, + 5-6 more), MMs to be the household names, and not many beyond the top tier (Baird, Blair, Houlihan, + 2-3 more), and BBs to be the names typically associated with traditional BBs (sorry Wells/RBC).  No offense to other types of firms that have great bankers, I just do not have experience there
    • Have completed $40bn+ in M&A.  Largest transaction being ~$9bn and smallest being ~$200mm

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Comments (132)

Feb 9, 2021 - 11:29am

What are your actual hours like? And how would you divide them between:

  • Fully engaged in work, talking to clients/colleagues, reviewing docs, etc.
  • Partially engaged in work, doing other stuff, but thinking about deals/pitches, etc.
  • Not engaged in work, fully concentrated on family, friends, personal, etc.
Feb 9, 2021 - 4:20pm

Covid has changed the work style pretty dramatically.  From 8 - 5 I am generally booked solid with zoom calls (new business development, live transaction meetings, internal calls).  I have had to put recurring placeholders in my calendar to have set times daily to do follow-ups, etc.  Evenings (5-8) are mostly family time (dinner, getting kids to bed, etc.).  Remainder of evening I'll review documents and generally be responsive to emails but will have a game or tv show in background. 

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Feb 9, 2021 - 11:51am

What advice would you have for someone getting into IB as an analyst who's looking to stay long-term vs. exiting to other opportunities?

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Feb 9, 2021 - 5:06pm

If you are thinking about going into banking longer-term (and this includes associates) - I personally would prioritize team/group over brand.  The job is tough and if you're working with people that you generally dislike, your tenure in banking is likely to be short.  I've gone this route and have been happy and has worked out over a longer time period.

If you are planning to be in banking shorter-term, I'd look at groups with strong deal flow.  Brand is more important in this scenario, but I'd take a bank with marginally less "prestige" that owns a vertical so you have referenceable deals.  Sweaty shops aren't necessarily bad if youre getting a good experience.

Feb 9, 2021 - 9:16pm

I'm sure there are other threads on this, but its definitely harder to make a good impression in a virtual environment (I think we gave 100% offers last summer because there really wasn't a good way to differentiate).  

Personally - if an intern reaches out to me just to chat and expresses interest in working in my sector or on a transaction with me, I'll typically get them on one of my projects or at least work with them on firm building.  From there its sink or swim, but you've made yourself known and if you perform I'll make sure its known. 

  • Intern in IB - Ind
Feb 12, 2021 - 4:54pm

As a senior with hours booked pretty much from 9am to 5pm with zoom calls, are you still able to make time for chats like this with interns without seeing it as a nuisance? If so, would a 10 mins call be more do-able than 30mins? I worry about reaching out to senior bankers as I know in the first place they do not have a lot of time, particularly in the COVID envrionment.

Feb 9, 2021 - 5:29pm

Thanks for doing this. Curious to know, what was the main driver in your comp increase from 700k as third year vp to 1mm as first year director? Did the group have a blowout year and that was just ballpark for your class across the board? Were you mostly in an execution role as first year D or did you potentially source a large fee and that contributed to your high pay that year?

First year director here and the 1mm figure struck me as bit high and impressive.

Feb 9, 2021 - 5:20pm

Sure I have.  Some days are tough - mostly due to clients.  But I haven't really given it a ton of thought.  Truth is, the higher you go, the less attractive exit options there are.  Pay difference at most logical off-ramps is insane.  I'm not going to go anywhere in next 2-5 years...want to get plenty of financial cushion.  At that point who know but given earnings up to that point, I should have flexibility to do something not based on need for $$$.

  • Associate 2 in IB-M&A
Feb 9, 2021 - 5:58pm

Do you think success in a corporate setting will be impacted by how long you spend in banking?

In other words, if you want to develop as a senior executive in a corporate setting, is there an advantage of leaving banking earlier (say as a post-MBA Associate), or as a VP or Director?  

Also wondering if you could walk us through your experience in sourcing clients. Having a good network helps, but how much of it is grinding and hard work vs. luck vs. using relationships and relying on the bankers around you?

Feb 9, 2021 - 12:48pm

Thanks for doing this! It's always very valuable to add experienced members' responses to the WSO Q&A 'archives'

- How do you think about promotions at different steps of the ladder? i.e., what do you need to do to stand out at the VP, ED, MD promotion levels?

- From what you've seen, what does it take to keep climbing to group head, head of M&A, co-head of IBD... after you become MD? Do you personally view it as an attractive athlete to pursue? I ask because I've been told by a few MDs already that they would much rather stay as MDs and keep working with their clients and growing their business vs. going into management roles

Feb 11, 2021 - 12:34am

Titles are generally step functions whereas responsibilities increase more gradually.  For promo, you need to be doing what the person titled above you is doing.  If you're a third year associate and you are proactively pushing forward analyses, drafting content, and driving some form client communication - essentially running the day to day, then you're ready for VP.  Same thing as you progress to higher titles. 
 

As for group head or similar roles, the "best" bankers or the economic animals may not want the title.  Not safe to assume they are highest paid.  Admin burden can be high and annoying. 

  • Summer Associate in IB - Gen
Feb 9, 2021 - 1:02pm

Have you ever had weeks when you felt as if you'd be better off outside banking? If so, what kept you going year after year?

Feb 14, 2021 - 11:28am

Have had some VPs move to CFO (or Corp Dev -> CFO) at PE-backed companies and absolutely crush it on exit.  
At MD level - some good exits to UMM sponsors who are now leading or among senior leadership at those firms.  
Associate exits less impressive in general.  One started a LMM sponsor with some more senior acquaintances and appears to be doing really well.  
Have viewed exits to Corp Dev roles to be pretty vanilla. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Feb 9, 2021 - 5:08pm

Thanks for this! Really appreciate your taking the time. Just had a question - in your experience, I'm sure you've seen junior bankers quit / lateral to other firms in investment banking. 

I was just wondering what you would say are best practices in terms of communicating with your boss that you are leaving to another bank, without having them hate you / attempt to take action to prevent you from taking on a new job. This would be great from your perspective as an MD. Anecdotes would be helpful as well. Thank you in advance!

Feb 9, 2021 - 9:45pm

Vast majority of the time, if you're leaving for a competing bank, you'll be walked out that day.  Unless you're a rainmaker leaving for a direct competitor, dont think anyone is going to hate you.  Its IB, people leave/move all the time.  The only time I've seen it become an issue is when one guy downloaded a bunch of information off the drive just prior to leaving.

I encourage my team to level with me.  If they want to exit to PE - lets talk about it and I may be able to be helpful.  Its a touchy subject and some banks/bankers have policies against it.  If you have a good relationship with a senior-ish banker, I'd level with them.  More often than not I've seen analysts leave for a Tier 2/3 sponsor and the MDs are confused..."wish he/she would have said something, I could have called [better sponsor] and gave him/her a recommendation".  But you need to use your judgement here and speak with someone you've built trust with.

Feb 9, 2021 - 5:36pm

Thanks for doing the AMA! Intending on pursuing post-mba banking this fall, so this is so helpful!
Given your experience in several different types of banks, what are your thoughts on whether to pursue BB, EB, or MM out of b-school?
Is it true that BB is the go-to if you don't intend to do banking long-term and vice-versa?
How much should the size and brand of the firm weigh in your selection criteria vs group culture / dealflow?

Feb 9, 2021 - 5:41pm

Finishing at an M7 right now. 

What made you go into banking vs. MBB? Are salaries 10-15 years post mba in MBB or an MBB exit (VP at a top corporate?) similar to that of a banking MD?

Array

Feb 9, 2021 - 9:52pm

I was a consultant pre-MBA (Not MBB, but Tier-2).  I'm not going to debate which one is better, but the travel associated with consulting is worse than the WLB issues in banking, IMO - and it doesn't get better with seniority.  You get a wider variety of exit options in consulting but everything else being equal, pay is better in banking. 

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Feb 9, 2021 - 8:03pm

What do you think separated you and other MBA classmates who went into banking and successfully climbed the ladder vs. the ones who ejected for a Corp Dev or whatever position? Are these characteristics specific to banking, or is it just a matter of top people being successful no matter what industry or firm they enter?

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Feb 9, 2021 - 10:04pm

Regarding the cities in which you did IB, which did you enjoy the most, the least and why?   

Feb 10, 2021 - 1:16pm

I think everyone should try to live in NYC once.  The pulse of the city, diversity, dining, and general shit to do is unmatched by any other city in US, IMO.  Plus if you're focused on finance, offers the broadest amount of additional opportunities.  Downside is cost, but well worth it if you dont yet have a family.  Great burbs close by.

Chicago is fine.  Big plus on low COL - can raise a family in the city at a reasonable cost.  Summers are amazing.  Winter is brutal.  Decent financial hub but only a fraction of NYC.  Downside is there isnt anywhere within 500 miles that is worth visiting.

SF has fallen on tougher times recently.  High cost but very attractive if youre focused on tech.  Big plus is you're close to a bunch of amazing places to visit - Napa, pacific NW, Tahoe, Whistler, LA, Vegas is a quick flight. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Feb 9, 2021 - 10:55pm

Thank you for doing this. I'm currently a first-year analyst at an EB (EVR/CVP/PJT/etc.) and I'm considering staying for longer past my 2-3 year program. I was wondering at what level are you able to start making some time for family / hobbies / other personal things? Senior associate / VP?

The hardest part about staying, at least from my current perspective, is the next 5-6 years with complete lack of control over my schedule (I'm seeing Associate 1s and 2s grinding just as hard as I am right now), but the big-picture view of the job and function still interests me and I could see myself eventually growing my skillset from an execution-focused role to more of a sales role (over the span of 10+ years, of course).

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Feb 9, 2021 - 11:05pm

At the banks you've been at, are there any qualities or differences you've noticed of analysts that went a2a and were successful vs those going to sponsors/buyside. Is it true in your opinion that the best analysts go to the buyside? How often do you see analysts going a2a?

Feb 11, 2021 - 11:58pm

I don't think there is any meaningful difference in strength of analysts who go into pe vs. a2a.  More about personal preference.  

Some benefits of a2a - you've established credibility with senior bankers, can get on best txns, having a huge head start on your post MBA associate cohort.

a2a is more common now but still low numbers.  Can be a grind.  More common at MM

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Feb 10, 2021 - 3:02am

Which type of bank MM, BB or EB did you have the best experience at.

I am an analyst looking to make a long term career in IBD. While EBs offer more pay, it seems like most senior people in EBs come from established BB platforms so would starting and progressing through the BB ranks be a better idea?

Feb 10, 2021 - 9:38pm

Everyone will have a different view on this and there isnt a clear answer.  Personally - I found my time at a BB to be least satisfying.  Maybe it was specific to my bank.  But the endless idea books, generally useless public company coverage tasks ("this is how the market reacted to your 2Q earnings report"), and very hierarchical nature led me to run for the exits.  Maybe its different at GS/MS/JPM.

MM is a great way to learn M&A.  If you're at a good firm, you will get a ton of transactions done in a short amount of time and have good exposure to sponsor and strategic investors.  Deal reps matter and the more you can get done the faster you'll learn.  Also best WLB.  Downside is mostly vanilla sell-side mandates and you do not get exposure to all the offerings / products that a BB provides.

Boutique has been the most intellectually challenging and has the highest caliber bankers, on average (there are exceptions to this, of course).  But you're right - most EBs hire top talent from BB ranks and development of talent can be lacking (they choose to buy, not build).

  • Associate 1 in IB - Gen
Feb 11, 2021 - 12:08pm

This brings up an interesting point that I've been struggling with lately. I'm an associate at an EB in a mediocre group. My WLB is solid; pay is well above street; deal flow is meh, but I'm getting some decent advisory reps (no financings since its an advisory boutique). What troubles me is that out of dozens of rain makers / there's literally one guy who worked his way up from VP or more junior. There's no incentive to develop top talent into rain makers because then the senior guys will lose their best execution people. You've got 40 and 50 year olds making $800k-$1mm a year pulling late nights and executing other people's deals. To me, it's clear that the most likely scenario that ends with me being a rainmaker at this firm is to move to another firm and rejoin once I build my own book and track record.

I'm a second year associate. At what point would you recommend jumping ship? On the one hand, I'm reluctant to take the paycut and worse WLB any time soon, but fear that if I were to go to a BB where financings would be a bigger part of my job, they'd look down on a VP who had limited financing experience. 

Curious to get your perspective

Also, as someone who is a senior guy bringing in business at a boutique now, how did you navigate the process of (1) getting the promotion and (2) the office politics involved in convincing people to vouge for you even though that meant losing a top execution person  

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Feb 15, 2021 - 9:33pm

Do you view hw as one of those top mm firms you mentioned in the original post and what has your view of them been based on interactions/colleagues

Feb 10, 2021 - 1:57pm

What is your advice to give for a high schooler to get into IB?

I'm not entirely sure what I want to do but right now am leaning towards trying to go into big tech or IB for a few years and then exiting for HF, PE, etc.

I know it's way to early to think about this but I think it's good to get a jump on things.

Feb 10, 2021 - 5:00pm

kingJT

What is your advice to give for a high schooler to get into IB?

I'm not entirely sure what I want to do but right now am leaning towards trying to go into big tech or IB for a few years and then exiting for HF, PE, etc.

I know it's way to early to think about this but I think it's good to get a jump on things.

Uh oh this is not gonna go well

Feb 10, 2021 - 3:03pm

Thanks for doing this. I am at a T20 MBA and interned at a LMM PE fund over the summer. I want to do IB FT and was wondering whether there would still be any spots that might open. I will appreciate if you can answer my questions;

1) Which Banks, locations and groups should I target?

2) Is it still possible to recruit successfully FT?

3) What does the recruiting timeline look like?

Any other advice would also be helpful.

Thanks.

Feb 10, 2021 - 6:34pm

Aspiring M7 MBA here. I plan on spending 2-5 as a post MBA associate(interested in restructuring) and then moving to private equity. Do you happen to have an advice for me and what are some challenges might I face in moving to private equity?

  • Incoming Analyst in IB - Ind
Feb 10, 2021 - 9:49pm

Thank you for doing this. As an incoming analyst in a coverage group, what are some common mistakes that you have seen first-years make and how should I try to best stand out or do a good job? 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Feb 10, 2021 - 11:05pm

Current first year analyst at a MM group with very high deal flow at the moment. The junior team in my group is getting absolutely crushed. How do you suggest a new analyst pushes back on workload, unfair / unnecessary deadlines without coming across as lazy or "not committed?"

Feb 11, 2021 - 10:52pm

I think this is pretty common at the moment, unfortunately. And ramping taking longer in virtual environment.

You should just be honest with your staffer on workload and project dynamics. And your deal team. If truly getting crushed to point where you can't do more and work product impacted - better to raise issue before impacts deal. They should send reinforcements. Issue is there may be nowhere for workload to go.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Feb 11, 2021 - 11:37am

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Really appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions. 

If you do not mind, I was just wondering what you believe the people at the highest level in banking make e.g. group heads at top BBs, partners at top EBs, I imagine this varies a lot but was just curious based on people you have interacted with / seen. 

Also, at the senior level, what do you think becomes the differentiating factor? At the junior level it seems to be things like attention to detail etc.

Thanks a lot! 

Feb 11, 2021 - 9:56pm

Did you go straight from MBA out of undergrad and then to associate? Is it common/possible to go straight from an MBA and come out as an associate (skipping the analyst stage?). The reason I ask is because my colleagues have told me that I NEED to get an MBA and it's best to do it right upon graduating. My only dilemma is that I don't want to get an MBA and come out as an analyst. Someone on this forum told me that you can't go straight to associate from MBA, but it seems like you went that route

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Feb 11, 2021 - 10:33pm

Isn't it nearly impossible to get an MBA straight out of undergrad? I was also told that the grad schools want people with at least 2, and preferably 4 years of work experience. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Feb 12, 2021 - 5:59am

thanks a lot for taking the time to do this! 

I was just wondering since PE recruiting is so early how to figure out if we want to stay in IBD vs go to PE? I am inclined to staying right now but everyone seems to do PE and I feel like I am missing out. 

thanks! 

  • Intern in AM - Equities
Feb 14, 2021 - 11:37am

Wondering if you know how much an ED/MD at a BB in Asia (HK/Singapore) makes? I know Analysts/Associates in Asia make more than US/UK (pre-tax) but wondering if you know how it scales up at ED/MD levels in USD? Thank you!!

Feb 14, 2021 - 5:20pm

Thanks for doing this - it is super helpful.

I am currently interning in an EB, but ended up receiving a FT offer from a BB for July. I am really enjoying my experience in the EB, and would like to continue there after the internship. I started 1 month ago and the internship is supposed to last up to July. Would it be reasonable to ask if the EB is able to give me a FT offer leveraging the FT offer in the BB? If yes, who should I speak with about this? I am just concerned that the guys who hired get disappointed and this backfires

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Feb 14, 2021 - 9:35pm

What're your thoughts on starting a career at a place like Liontree or M. Klein? Do you think they'd be a nice place to be a career banker? if one was to want to switch from a firm like this to a BB/EB at the associate or VP level do you think it'd be feasible?

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Feb 15, 2021 - 12:17am

How does it feel knowing that EVERY single analyst working under you absolutely DESPISES the work you are asking them to do.  Every markup you give is hated.

EVERY single one of them is desperately trying to leave the industry and hate all transactions you are running

During pitches you grind them on they will have conversations behind your back that they hope they lose the pitch since they are too swamped to deal with another transaction

It's very likely they despise you as well (not as an individual, but as an MD banker).  If you are a dick to them (50% chance you are based on most MDs i know), then they hate you individually as well

None of them want to be you.  Not one.  They all want out.

the day they secure an offer for PE/VC/Startup and resign and stop working on YOUR transaction will be truly one of the happiest days of their life(100% srs).

How do you keep going knowing the response all your comments and markups truly evoke?

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Feb 15, 2021 - 12:38am

a BB - but if he's at an elite boutique, my comments are only even more true

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