The "Culture" of a bank

Since we are slowly migrating from the interview stages to the post offer stage, the threads are starting to move much more towards XYZ vs ABC. I wanted to take time to talk about the "culture" question that keeps coming up. In particular kids asking about the culture of the bank.

My one piece of advice: you should not make a decision based on the perceived culture of the overall bank, culture is very desk specific. The culture of the cash equities desk is going to be different from the delta one desk which is going to be different from the flow equity derivs desk which is going to be different from the exotics desk. Same thing with FICC, the structured credit desk is very different from the flow credit desk.

Why is this so?

When people talk of culture relating to jobs, it means how you get along with the people you work with. Its pretty obvious that this comes down to the personality of a handful of people on most desks. For example a flow equity derivs desk can have as few as 10 people, this is a very small group for there to be talk of a culture.

Therefore when asking for input on culture, specify it by desk. There is a lot smaller chance you will get an answer, but if you do it will actually be a useful one.

Comments (59)

Feb 9, 2011

This is a good point, but I would just note that upper-level management does a lot to set the cultural tone. My experience involved being part of a merger. Even though I had the same MD and managers, the culture within our group changed a great deal between the old firm and the new firm.

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Feb 9, 2011

I agree with your point. Even specific groups have a world of difference. But I think that banks do have certain cultures that they instill in their employees and is passed down each level. For example, the culture as a whole at UBS is much different than DB or Bar Cap (in the US).

--
"Those who say don't know, and those who know don't say."

Feb 10, 2011

turnover is so high (though it'll be interesting to see if the new comp structure/deferrals change that), that the idea of a true firm culture passed when GS went public. I work with guys who have been at shops all over the street....who's to say this First Bank of Nova Scotia culture they keep pushing on me really exists??!?!?

Feb 10, 2011

We are fortunate to have ladies in our team and so conversation is less ribald. Also, not much talk about Euler or the beauty of the natural log.

Those who can, do. Those who can't, post threads about how to do it on WSO.

Feb 10, 2011

I'm fortunate enough to have a no pants in the morning policy at my office.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

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Feb 10, 2011

I've worked in multiple offices that have run the gamut. My first job out of school was at an REPE firm and it was a fraternity house. No women and a bunch of RE cowboys. Friday mornings at the office were the equivalent of the morning after a fraternity party, except that no one had pissed in the sink. At least at the office.

I worked in London and our office was very prim and proper but everyone would go out and get blotto drunk and screw each other after hours. But it was absolutely formal at the office. It was odd getting into the office and seeing two co-workers who had basically fucked in front of you the night before on the couch at a club.

But most of them have just been kind of boring, regular offices. I know the younger people at my office go out and maybe they have bacchanalian adventures but at the office it's pretty tame and PC.

Feb 10, 2011

Laid back. Even so, work hard & reward hard culture.

Feb 10, 2011

Research-intensive HF. Quiet and hard working, but laid back (ie PMs trust analysts to do their work and don't micromanage). But yeah, quiet with very little shooting the shit around the office.

Best Response
Feb 10, 2011

Bunch of dudes thinking and talking about money and pussy. That's how it was for me, pretty standard really.

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Feb 10, 2011

a team of guys where everybody pretends to be decent but deep down are all dicks...
the boss freaking micro-manage us but pretends to be a big boss and only care about big picture....

Feb 10, 2011

Work and more work, with the occasional Ebola joke

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Feb 10, 2011

Loud with lots of jokes. We get up and dance everyday at 2:30. The ceo wears a hoodie and jeans to work on occasion. Every new deal we get we ring a giant gong. Its pretty cool.

Feb 10, 2011

Can't tell if this is serious...

Feb 10, 2011
BillieJean:

Can't tell if this is serious...

We have football flags we throw at each other if we think someone has a bad attitude. Ping pong table too.

Feb 10, 2011

Spend all morning thinking about what to get for lunch. After lunch try to function like a normal human being, and some jokes about other brokers.

Feb 10, 2011

A bunch of tools, half of whom spent more time on Chive than on their Bloomberg screens. If I'd been any younger, I would have had Wolf of Wall Street to get an idea of what I was getting into. Good god, some of these traders/brokers are complete tools.

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Feb 10, 2011

i don't understand how you think this is even realistic. maybe high level principles there are similarities, but other than EB's, how can you expect a huge bank to have a firm-wide culture...

Feb 10, 2011

generally different by group...even for boutiques

Feb 10, 2011

For the most part I think culture is entirely group dependent. However, banks have reputations for hiring certain types of people at the lower levels, and this can contribute to some sort of a firm wide culture. For example, MS is known to hire from primarily the known 'target' schools where as at JP you have a little bit more diversity in terms of school background- they have a number from quite random state schools across the US as well as more from the classic semi-targets. If you believe (as I do) that students from Wharton, Princeton, and Harvard have certain similar characteristics between them, then I believe this can affect a bank as a whole to some degree.

Feb 10, 2011

Groups have cultures.

Firms have policies which get in the way of those cultures.

There is no such thing as firmwide culture, at least at a firm with more than ~1,000 employees.

That said, you can *feel* good upper level management and bad upper level management in large organizations, but it doesn't boil down to the culture in your group. It's something's broken- we need to fix it- is upper management saying no? Are they asking dumb questions? Are they letting us fix it? Or are they asking much shrewder questions than we'd been able to anticipate and giving us a really smart reason for "no"?

Feb 10, 2011
IlliniProgrammer:

Groups have cultures.

Firms have policies which get in the way of those cultures.

There is no such thing as firmwide culture, at least at a firm with more than ~1,000 employees.

That said, you can *feel* good upper level management and bad upper level management in large organizations, but it doesn't boil down to the culture in your group. It's something's broken- we need to fix it- is upper management saying no? Are they asking dumb questions? Are they letting us fix it? Or are they asking much shrewder questions than we'd been able to anticipate and giving us a really smart reason for "no"?

This is exactly right. There's no such thing as firm culture at large firms.

Feb 10, 2011

Try banks in China

Feb 10, 2011
adapt or die:

Try banks in China

lol

Feb 10, 2011

Also everything we've told you, pretend you didn't hear it when you get to the interview or info session. Just nod your head and agree with the interviewer if he starts talking about firmwide culture or whatever.

Just try not to use firm culture as a reason why you want to work for a firm.

Feb 10, 2011
IlliniProgrammer:

Also everything we've told you, pretend you didn't hear it when you get to the interview or info session. Just nod your head and agree with the interviewer if he starts talking about firmwide culture or whatever.

Just try not to use firm culture as a reason why you want to work for a firm.

Disagree here- citing the people at a firm is one of the best (and only real) reasons to give for why you want to work at a firm. What other reason can you realistically give that differentiates GS/MS/JPM- none truly exist (I suppose for GS/MS you could speak to their focus on their IBD and their history as true investment banks), but who really cares about that. Maybe this wasn't your point, in which case apologies for the post.

Feb 10, 2011
Black Jack:
IlliniProgrammer:

Also everything we've told you, pretend you didn't hear it when you get to the interview or info session. Just nod your head and agree with the interviewer if he starts talking about firmwide culture or whatever.

Just try not to use firm culture as a reason why you want to work for a firm.

Disagree here- citing the people at a firm is one of the best (and only real) reasons to give for why you want to work at a firm. What other reason can you realistically give that differentiates GS/MS/JPM- none truly exist (I suppose for GS/MS you could speak to their focus on their IBD and their history as true investment banks), but who really cares about that. Maybe this wasn't your point, in which case apologies for the post.

At all of GS? At all of Citi? At all of Barclays? At all of Morgan Stanley?

Let's be honest here. There's this thing called the central limit theorem. A firm of 60,000 employees is going to be pretty homogeneous, and everyone knows it.

Group culture matters. Firm culture- there is no firm culture.

You want into a bank? Don't tell IBD how the firm has an awesome Research department. Tell IBD how you like folks in IBD.

Feb 10, 2011
IlliniProgrammer:
Black Jack:
IlliniProgrammer:

Also everything we've told you, pretend you didn't hear it when you get to the interview or info session. Just nod your head and agree with the interviewer if he starts talking about firmwide culture or whatever.

Just try not to use firm culture as a reason why you want to work for a firm.

Disagree here- citing the people at a firm is one of the best (and only real) reasons to give for why you want to work at a firm. What other reason can you realistically give that differentiates GS/MS/JPM- none truly exist (I suppose for GS/MS you could speak to their focus on their IBD and their history as true investment banks), but who really cares about that. Maybe this wasn't your point, in which case apologies for the post.

At all of GS? At all of Citi? At all of Barclays? At all of Morgan Stanley?

Let's be honest here. There's this thing called the central limit theorem. A firm of 60,000 employees is going to be pretty homogeneous, and everyone knows it.

Group culture matters. Firm culture- there is no firm culture.

You want into a bank? Don't tell IBD how the firm has an awesome Research department. Tell IBD how you like folks in IBD.

I think we are saying the same thing (maybe I didn't communicate it as well as I wanted to).

Feb 10, 2011

I have worked at two places and the culture was different in some ways but very small. Some people took a lot of pride in working there for 20 plus years and wanted people around them that were in for the long run.

Feb 10, 2011

There can be huge differences between groups and banks in terms of culture. People hire people into their groups and firms that are like themselves. I have worked at 2 IBs, in PE and now in ER. All of the places had drastically different cultures.

One was a fairly standard BB IB at a macro level, the group I was in was flatter than some of the other groups at the bank, and the team I was on wasn't killed as much as some of the verticals around me. B-cas dress code

The second was far more laid back and flat, trading style layout in IB, not as big bankish in infrastructure or controls. The group itself was a bunch of exercise nuts and that came through everywhere, from guys leaving for 2 hour gym stints, to arriving in the morning in running gear and changing. My team was incredibly lean and foxused on merchant banking deals, which changed some of the work. B-formal dress code

The PE work I did, was the smallest yet, with almost no infrastructure behind it. The people took the long view and let everyone work at their own pace. B-formal dress code

The ER boutique I'm at now works about 10 hours a day with no weekends. The CEO says things like, "I know its gonna be a busy earnings season, so just tone down any of the non-essentials, there is no reason for us to be killing ourselves with long hours." It's in SoCal, so the weather, and attitudes out here definitely are prevalent. Its a small firm, so you know everyone, not just in the group, but in the company. You can expect to chat with the CEO while making an espresso in the kitchen. Casual dress code (shorts and flip flops)

So, you can see that things have been different across the board. You will find that small things get magnified within firms. At GS, they really do believe in team work, and at MS, they really tend more towards the d-bag frat mentality. Up and coming firms often have chip on their shoulder and may kill their analysts more than a BB that actually gets deals. Dress code feeds into culture as well. A firm that makes you wear a suit every day is trying to say something to its workers.

Remember, when a bank gives you an offer and places you into a group, you will be working with those people for a ton of hours every week, under stressful conditions. So, you hire people who are like yourself and that you would enjoy being with all the time.

--There are stupid questions, so think first.

Feb 10, 2011

It's perpetuating in that employees choose new recruits they get on with. I accepted the offer from the firm whose people I liked the most.

Feb 10, 2011

There definitely are huge disparities in culture across banks. Though I would say culture varies more across groups in a bank than across the BB banks in general. Cultural differences were much more profound 25 years ago when banks were much more concentrated along ethnic/education background lines.

Feb 10, 2011

Wait until you're hip-deep in it. There IS a cultural difference. It's not huge, but it's there. There are also cultural differences from group to group within a single bank. Some may nurture rock stars and beat up underdogs. Some are very democratic. Some don't like it if you leave before 3 AM but don't care when you come in as long as it's before noon. Some want you in your desk at 9 AM come hell or high water. Some venerate their MDs like gods; some put them out on the floor like regular people. Some treat analysts like a valued part of the banking process; some treat analysts like secretaries (that don't get to leave at 6 PM like the real ones).

Feb 10, 2011

you couldn't be further from the truth. there are totally cultural differences and i think it plays a major role in your quality of life. Some banks are more frat/collegiate in atmosphere where as others are more intellecutal. i've have friends work at banks where they say no one really talks to each other just work, whereas others, including myself, work where everyone is always talking and joking around. when your working 70+ hours a week you better like/fit in with your culture or your going to be stuck in hell.

Feb 10, 2011

Yeah, they all have the same line on their website about who they are looking for, but as said above, there are some key differences. Think about it this way. You got your major with a bunch of people that had similar interests but you wouldn't really say that everyone in your class got along with each other and would like to be around each other 85 hours/week.

My first job out of school was at a firm where it quickly became apparent that 75% of the people were total assholes (at least in my mind.) With the hours we work in banking you just can't work with people you can't get along with. It just doesn't work. (And if you don't like your co-workers, they won't like you which will come into play come bonus time.)

But I understand that when you are scrapping to get your first good job you might just have to bite the bullet and take what you can get and ignore culture completely.

Feb 10, 2011

culture varies across bank and group.

some banks require business formal, others don't. small but somewhat important detail.

in some groups, analysts party together on weekends and whatnot...in other groups, analysts just dont party with each other.

Feb 10, 2011

Culture can play a huge part in what you do after 2 years, as well. Do your MD's even know who you are? Like Mis Ind indicated, some groups' MDs couldn't care less about their analysts and in others MDs take care of the group. When an MD can write a letter for you for B-school apps, or put in a recc for buyside jobs, that's huge.

And in my experience some groups don't like you to openly talk about interviewing for buyside jobs or leaving, and others it's out there in the open, even encouraged.

Feb 10, 2011

Okay, from group to group, the number of people is small enough that there can be perceptible cultural differences. Plus, the senior bankers are making the hires, so they are usually trying to keep a certain atmosphere. But, from one bank to the next, there is no cultural difference because, within an entire bank of that many people, there is no firm-wide culture. People like or don't like the firm based on the group they work in.

Feb 10, 2011

that's not true. there is a huge difference between lehman and bear for instance. firm-wide. or goldman and morgan - again firm-wide. not so much for instance between goldman and lehman.

Feb 10, 2011

There is not a "huge" difference b/w Morgan and Goldman firm-wide but not b/w Goldman and Lehman. There are tens of thousands of employees at those places, and even if they attempt to have distinct cultures from the top, it's the guys on the ground who set the tone, and most of the people who work at the BBs are extremely similar. I'm not some high school senior. I know dozens of bankers at Leh, ML, MS, GS, BofA, etc, and while they don't have the same personality, in terms of work, they are substantially similar.

Feb 10, 2011

dude, we are talking IB here..not back office brokerage and operations.
are you in the business at all????

Feb 10, 2011

I don't know about 2007 (is that the year you're graduating from high school) but you got the ass part right.

Feb 10, 2011

not worth my comment - check your first post - typo in the first couple of words...
i'm done with you kid.

Feb 10, 2011

"Morgan Stanley ass doesn't taste any better than DLJ ass." -Monkey Business-

"We are lawyers! We sue people! Occasionally, we get aggressive and garnish wages, but WE DO NOT ABDUCT!" -Boston Legal-

Feb 10, 2011

...but it might have a few more wrinkles in it

Feb 10, 2011

culture doesn't matter. go to the best bank you can get into. period.

Feb 10, 2011

well in the Accidental Investment Banker, the author did mention that there was a huge difference in culture with regards to MS vs GS insofar as teamwork is concern and the latter's ability to harness the collective intellectual capital of the firm

Feb 10, 2011

BS. GS > MS.

Feb 10, 2011

You want to choose the best bank in the long run. But at the same time, one has to factor the people or the brand. (In a perfect world, we would have both.) At the end, 80-100 hours a week for at least 48 weeks out of the year, you better like the people or it will be 2 LONG years.

Feb 10, 2011

that's the culture that matters, not the 'culture' of the bank

Feb 10, 2011

When a bank comes to a target school to recruit, they say, "what differentiates us is our culture," but that's bs. All that matters is the group you're in - as for the bank, Hank_P is right, go to the best bank you can.

Feb 10, 2011

I think as long as your BB, there is not huge difference in opportunities coming out of 2 years. I would argue that culture matters a lot cause it sucks to work with a holes.

Feb 10, 2011

I mean how can you get a sense of bank's culture without actually working there? Of course the people that interview you will not say that "we have a good ol'boy culture here" or something along that line. And you will not show your very true self in the interview, as you're trying to impress them. Plus it's mostly upper level people interviewing you, who don't really set the tone as much as the people you'll be working with. And when you do get to find out, it's kinda too late. So all this "choose the group that you'll be comfortable in" is crap. How can you choose the group if you don't know what it's like?

Feb 10, 2011

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Feb 10, 2011
Feb 10, 2011