Some of the most fascinating characters of our time are the high-flying men and women of finance – those razor-sharp individuals who juggle billion-dollar deals while traveling the world first-class, wearing fancy suits, and earning far more than their peers.

And though many types can play this role, one in particular has long been the envy of college students and working professionals around the world: the investment banker, or ‘ibanker’.

A title that elicits both admiration and jealousy

So much hype and glamour has been created around this mythical creature, it’s hardly surprising that the ibanker is seen by most as an extraordinary being.

After I became a banker, whenever I was introduced to new people in a social gathering at a restaurant or someone’s flat, as soon as the words “He’s an investment banker” were uttered, I could see people forming opinions. The look in their eyes, as well as their comportment in the ensuing moments, suggested that my job title had made a real impression.

Some were enthralled and asked all kinds of questions about what I did, how I did it, and why. Others, though, automatically assumed I was a heartless, arrogant shark in search of nothing but profit. These people would sometimes ignore me. Then, there were those who were keen to impress me with a list of their own roles and responsibilities. After questioning me on my day-to-day, the projects I worked on, and the responsibilities I held, they’d speak almost confrontationally about their own jobs, insinuating how much better theirs were to mine.

Still others, who found it mesmerizing that an individual could deal with such large sums of money, were curious to know what was so special about me. In reality, there was nothing special about me – I just had a sexy job title. And whether the person in front of me respected or despised my role, there was no denying that my title packed a punch.

Though it of course depended on the crowd I was in, I generally preferred to say little about my job. First of all, I spent far too many hours of the day in the office. So, when I did get some free time, I simply needed to switch off – and talking about work didn’t help. My sanity depended on such breaks. Secondly, having gone through the experience of telling others I was a banker and fielding the whole gamut of responses, I found it was simply easier to avoid the discussion. I’m not saying it’s tantamount to being a celebrity, but sometimes, especially when meeting new people, you want to fly below the radar.

Investment banking gives you the opportunity to work on headline-grabbing deals

Sometimes people asked for examples of deals I worked on. They were curious to know exactly what I did, and a few sentences summarizing my role didn’t always do the job. Most people know little about investment banking aside from what they see in movies and the news – people dressed in suits playing with numbers and making loads of money.

I lived and breathed these deals, so when people asked me, the answers flowed out of my mouth. “I just wrapped up a USD3 billion capital raise for one of the largest banks in Abu Dhabi,” or, “I’m advising one of Africa’s largest telecommunications companies on a USD500 million acquisition of a regional competitor.”

The moment I started throwing figures around, people raised an eyebrow or two. Most of these people worked on transactions, deals or projects that ranged from thousands and hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, max. But when you’re working for an investment bank, and for a big one in particular, you may be dealing with billions of dollars day in and day out. And the clients are very recognizable corporate giants.

The media and sensationalism

Portrayals of bankers in movies, TV shows, magazines and newspapers tend to accentuate certain personality traits and attributes. Bankers are often depicted as being:

  • Supremely self-confident, assertive and unafraid to speak up;
  • Highly intelligent;
  • Mathematically adept;
  • Ferociously competitive;
  • Strongly analytical;
  • Excellent communicators; and, of course
  • Filthy rich

We all know the media likes to sensationalize things in order to get more readers and viewers. Also, not all of their coverage is positive, especially in light of the recent global financial crisis. Yet, there’s some truth to how they paint bankers.

Prior to banking, I worked in a number of different sectors but never in a setting with such a high concentration of self-assured self-starters as in an investment bank. To say that the business is competitive is an understatement. People aren’t just comfortable with numbers, they use them like Shakespeare used English: to enchant and dazzle. A good banker can communicate and simplify the most complex financial structures so that even a barber can comprehend them. And, yes, there are some in the business who make shockingly huge amounts of money. Keep in mind, however, the majority of bankers don’t make the hundreds of millions that you read about. Only a handful of individuals make the really big bucks. Nonetheless, a front office banker will make very good money, be able to live in the nicest part of town, and never be deterred from entering a restaurant because of menu prices, to say the least.

There is also truth to the stereotype of bankers as being overly moneydriven. But then again, they work in an investment bank, not a monastery. Every single day, from morning till night, a banker is working with money to make money. They can’t escape it. It is at the core of their business. A bank is like a manufacturing plant that assembles moneymaking machines (ibankers) who will then continually feed the ever-hungry bank with revenues and fees. But this doesn’t mean that bankers have to sacrifice their souls. You can be in the business and remain grounded if you make a conscious effort to do so.

Let’s move on…

The fact that you’re still reading means you want to break into investment banking (ibanking). Good.

Now, you may have some questions running through your head. [READ MORE…]


Job hop and survive

Gone are the days of one-job-for-life. That phenomenon is a thing of the past.

Once upon a time being a job hopper was a grave sin and made if insurmountably difficult for you to land a new job. From the moment you sat in front of a prospective employer you were on the defensive against accusations of infidelity. Until recently it was a scarlet letter of sorts. But times have changed.

You can now job hop and more than just survive doing it. Well executed, a job change will enable you to obtain a more senior position (maybe even skip over one) and also get paid a heck of a lot more money.

A guy I knew did just that. The day he showed up at our bank it was to assume his third job in five years.

Adam (not real name)

Adam once held an Associate IBD role within an investment bank. Though he was paid well and worked for a leading bank, his ambition led him to jump to the buy-side where he joined a blue-chip private equity firm. On an exceptional package. Then, having barely memorised the password to his new workplace computer, he sought out his next move, which not long after landed him on the doorstep of my bank with a compensation package whose size could only be surpassed by that of his smile.

With each move Adam skipped a position and negotiated a more enormous pay package. Not bad, right?

Don’t be fooled, his path was anomalous. It would be challenging to replicate what he did. The reason being that his geographic expertise became fashionable almost overnight, making him highly “in demand” within the banking community. The timing was perfect.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider job hopping. You just need to make a calculated decision.

So if you’ve decided it’s time to jump ship or have simply started thinking about it, then consider these 5 things first.

1. The right reasons

Are you changing jobs because you can’t stand your current one or because a great opportunity has presented itself and it’s just right. Think about it carefully.

You need to have good reasons for moving.

Changing jobs isn’t easy. It’s emotionally draining. You need to make new friends, get used to new routines. Establish new ties and win the approval of new people – not easy in shark-infested waters. Don’t underestimate the politics of banking.

So make sure the change fits with your long-term objective.

2. Speak to your mentor

If you don’t have one then you’re missing out and I would advise you find one fast. And not your line manager. You want someone who isn’t directly dependent on your output. Find someone senior at the bank who, preferably, has a great deal of clout. You want to turn this person into an uncle or aunt figure. That way you can share your personal ambitions with them and know they’ll give you the best advice, whether it’s what you want to hear or not. [READ MORE…]

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