The Business

Alettertoanalystslosize

Survival is defined as the condition of continuing to live, usually despite challenging circumstances. And challenging they are for the underprivileged caste of initiates embarking on a journey of financial wizardry. For theirs, is a path beset with veiled violence, false hopes and some level of hair-loss.

Recently, I came across a very stimulating quote from the American author Louis L’Amour. It read: “Knowledge is like money and to be of value must circulate.” That got me thinking. If I fail to share my knowledge then, true, I will remain sole shareholder of it; but it will be an insignificant shareholding. Similar to an idea, I suppose. Ideas have no value. That is, until they’re put to work.

The words of the late novelist moved me.

I am now compelled to do something about it.

Lest the little I know falls anymore in value, I have decided to share a few words with incoming classes of investment banking analysts the world over. May it offer them a lifeline in times of need and desperation. Alas, times they will unquestionably face.

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To my yet unblemished young soul,

The world around us is replete with words of advice related to the workplace. Throughout your short yet dignified life you have no doubt been advised to maintain a healthy diet, remain physically active and to make time to see friends and family. A wiry friend of yours of an earthy predisposition may have even convinced you to practice yoga in an unusually sultry room. I am afraid my advice will bear little resemblance to anything you’ve heard thus far.

What I present to you, below, is based on knowledge of the actions of great bankers, whom I have closely watched over the years. Here, I have done my utmost best to encapsulate the best of their strategies and cunning methods into a concise and digestible list.

What qualifies me to write this short piece, you may ask yourself. Firstly, I have breathed, fought and eaten in the den of financial gladiators. I have stood in the arena shoulder to shoulder with fellow bankers, many of whom perished early in their careers and went on to practice lesser arts. During that time I carefully observed the most senior and influential members of the audience above, in order to discern their tastes and motivations. Do not forget, it is they who bestow upon you the gift of life, death and the bonus. Secondly, I have also sat in the stands, from where I attentively watched gladiators below. During my observations, common traits emerged amongst the superior class of men and women who battled in the den. Those who became victors. Masters of the game whose every step riches followed.

Your time in a bank is short. And will likely end just as you begin to truly appreciate the tricks of the trade. What use will that knowledge be to you when you are no longer a banker? Therefore, please accept this humble offering. That it may afford you the advantage of hindsight I have gained.

What follows are guiding principles you should always keep in the back of your mind. They will not make your stay in a bank comfortable or pleasant – such miracles are the subject of schoolchild fantasies. They will, however, help you survive. [READ MORE…]

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xmasatthebank

Ah, Christmas. Can you name a more joyous time of the year?

“Tis the season to be greedy,” shouted Mario, the curly-haired Italian Managing Director, as he charged out of the bathroom and darted toward his seat with a smile that inspired ambivalent emotions. On the one hand, it appeared broad and unquestionably genuine. Like one catalysed by the memory of stealing an issue of Playboy from his father’s private collection when he was a mere 13 years old and, by that afternoon, becoming the most popular kid in his class. On the other, from certain angles, the expression was unconvincing and thin, arousing wholesale resentment.

What’s with him?

He couldn’t look any more ridiculous if he tried. Wearing his signature dark green trousers, a tailor fitted blue shirt from Gieves & Hawkes and burgundy loafers, one could have easily mistaken him for a gentleman of leisure. That was perfectly acceptable attire on casual Friday. But he had donned a silly Santa Claus hat. Is that meant to lift our spirit?

The time was 5:15pm.

One couldn’t tell that Christmas was less than 10 days away. The floor was buzzing, people were shouting into their phones and a sense of constant, unabated urgency enveloped the entire building. As for holiday decorations…forget about it. Not an ornament in sight.

The pressure to keep working away remained as high as the rest of the year.

At 5:20pm, the same annoying voice forced entry into my unguarded personal space – all freedoms were handed over to the bank the moment I signed the employment contract. “Stay close to your clients. Let’s line up some big fees for January. Let’s go. Let’s go.” Mario had put on his coat and was headed out for the night. Still wearing the Santa Claus hat. Bloody f-ing idiot.

“Douchebag,” was the muted response from a colleague a few seats away. A few giggles followed.

I looked down at my wrist to double-check the time. Leaving around 5pm was considered doing a half day here. Under normal circumstances I would have wished Mario a gruesome and painful death for rubbing it in. Yet I was a man on a mission. That evening I intended to sneak away from my desk at 7:00pm sharp, three hours earlier than my usual departure time. A relative of mine was a member of a successful music band and they were playing in London that evening. I had VIP passes. For me and nine other people.

Note, in my team, leaving at 7pm was tantamount to spitting on your boss’ face in front of the board. Therefore, in order to secure an exit, I had to scheme. [READ MORE…]

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choosewisely1

Many people choose a particular line of work (a) based on perception of what’s sexy or popular and/or b) with little consideration. Your time on earth is limited, so if you choose something that will end up taking a chunk of your time, then do yourself a huge favour and make sure it’s well thought-out.

The right way

It’s also important to spend a bit of time figuring out where you fit best within the world of finance.

This is not something you can do by just reading about each division of a bank and what it does on their website. A few paragraphs or pages on the operations of M&A or Trading business aren’t enough material for you to base such a big decision on. No way!

Sure, you may end up going with what your gut instinct first tells you, but do the homework so you’re 100% sure. Besides, the more you look into it, the more powerful your conviction will become about that particular area of the business. And this will show in meetings.

Don’t blindly pick an area because it sounds sexy. You will excel much faster, make more money (in the long run), and be happier if you pursue what you like. I had a friend who was obsessed with the idea of becoming a trader and did everything it took to become one in a big bank. It was the worst decision of his life. For the short time he was a trader, he was pissing out of his ass half the week – his diarrhea was that bad. And it was all from the stress, which is compounded when it’s not something you’re suited for. [READ MORE…]

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3waystobecomeaninvestmentbankermar2016

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“To answer or not to answer. That, my dear ibanker, is the question you must ask yourself.”

– Jean-Pierre (A senior investment banker)

Those were the very words that came out of Jean-Pierre’s mouth one Thursday evening at quarter to eight as he got up from his chair to head home after a long day. He was my line manager and, as with people in the business, never gave a moment’s thought to anyone but himself.

I had pulled an all-nighter the night before with but only one little break – when a taxi drove me home at 5:30am so that I could shower, shave and put on a fresh suit. The driver just sat in his car while the meter ran. I was then driven right back so that I could be at my desk by 7:30am. I slept for no more than ten minutes en route to Canary Wharf. Colleagues had already started calling.

So here I am sitting at my desk, having missed out on a much-needed night of sleep, when, just as I’m beginning to think about the lovely prospects of packing up to head home, one of the phone lines on our desk area begins to ring. Oh God.

At this time, there are three of us junior bankers still working away. Custom has it that one of us should answer the phone and do so quickly. You never know, it could be a client, someone from the New York office or another team within the building that needs immediate help. It was an unwritten rule that a phone line should not go unanswered for more than three rings. I’ve seen Managing Directors yell across the room at junior bankers for not jumping at the opportunity to answer. [READ MORE…]

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At any one time, I may advise anywhere from a few to ten families, each with a net worth above USD1billion. They are mostly based in London because anyone who lives here knows that the city simply attracts a lot of money, is far more international than most other gateway cities, is geographically central, has an undeniable prestige about it and so on and so forth. Having said that, some of these families also have bases abroad, depending on where they are from or spend a lot of their time.

The sheer amount of wealth these families possess is flabbergasting. Few people actually know who they are and what they own exactly. They not only have drivers, private jets, yachts and other goodies the rest of us only come close to via music videos, magazines and movies, but also an army of specialists ready to serve them such as private bankers, security companies (to look after their personal safety and that of their assets), house staff and more.

Often, their money is managed through what’s called a Family Office, an organization that manages the wealth of an ulta-high net worth individual or a family. A Family Office can be comprised of less than a handful of people, including the individual or family to whom the wealth belongs, up to twenty or more individuals. It varies on a case by case basis.

Different families different cultures

Family Offices allow very few people into their circle for obvious reasons.

Those I presently work with are a colourful bunch. They include: a secretive English family with its hands in multiple sectors in the UK and Europe; an Indian family which owns some of the most luxurious hotel assets in India; a funny Swiss individual whose significant wealth came from technology investments; the Family Office of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest merchant families; a powerful Azeri family with billions in assets; a Mongolian ultra high net worth individual with, amongst other things, mining, hospitality and banking assets; an American family that is one of the largest real estate owners in the nation; and more.

Through my work, and affiliation to one of the largest Family Office platforms in the world, I have come to know many more Family Offices from all over the world. Some I interact with regularly, in person either in London or another international city, while others I see once in a while and tend to speak to over the phone mostly.

These groups differ from larger, more institutionalised organizations in so many ways that it would be far too difficult for me to show it one post. However, one important area I could quickly touch on is how they go about investing their money. Let’s set aside the type (debt or equity), sector (Oil & Gas or Technology), size (USD5m or 50m) and structure of investments they make, and touch on the process they go through in order to arrive at a decision to proceed ahead.

Let me provide two examples: [READ MORE…]

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Once upon a time, Roman gladiators fought against one another in massive arenas surrounded by the deafening cries of thousands of blood-thirsty spectators who craved to see no less than blood carpet the ground, gouged eyes brandished like a cowboy’s lasso and decapitated heads affixed to the sharp end of swords like skewered kebabs.

One would need to momentarily turn a blind eye to the fierce brutality of what was once upon a time considered a magnificent sport, if they would like to perceive the noble elements of the game. Just as the crowds used to, long ago. For in their hearts, the audience longed for more than just the sight of blood. With determined eyes, they religiously followed each swing of the mighty sword as it cut through the air toward their opponent’s body. With each breath they impatiently waited to witness the manifestation of ideals and virtues that long confirmed the elegance of the sport.

Rapture

The crowd held strong admiration for those who fought valiantly and displayed great courage.

When a gladiator put on a good show and revealed integrity, he or she was showered with gifts, honours, sexual partners and even freedom. In other words, the gladiator received a bonus.

Though those days have long gone, except in the imagination of a few poor yet ambitious Hollywood scriptwriters aspiring to bring to life the next great Ancient Roman blockbuster, some practices remain.

Just as many forms of punishment once open to the public moved behind closed doors, so too have some of today’s gladiator games. In particular those that involve financial combatants. Though they are out of sight, they persist within the halls of global investment banks.

Origins and the present

Gladiators usually came from one of two places. They were captured soldiers who had fought and lost against Rome. Or they were slaves. Through their status as gladiators they would have the opportunity to redeem themselves and potentially attain freedom. Perhaps even fame.  [READ MORE…]

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Sometimes it’s the painful and annoying experiences you suffer through at work that are most instrumental in promoting your personal growth.

New joiners beware

I can tell you that for me and all of my former colleagues in banking, and I’d say most people working for a large powerhouse investment bank, there was no instruction manual to refer to when, on our first day and not long after we seated ourselves comfortably on what was to become an extension of our rears, some senior banker appeared unannounced and barked an order to have this or that done “NOW” or “ASAP.”

You were never approached with a gentle or friendly “hello”, “excuse me”, “would you mind”, “can you please” or any of that fluffy, time-wasting nonsense. There were exceptions of course, when someone put their hand on your shoulder, smiled and kindly asked you to do something for them. But those events which were few and far in between occurred when you daydreamed for a few seconds at your desk as a coping mechanism before another urgent deadline landed on your desk like a meteor and turned yet another hair on your scalp grey.

Generally, someone just commanded you to get X done in 10 minutes. And trust me when a Managing Director stares right at you with bloodshot eyes, a threatening open mouth and bulging neck veins you begin to stress very quickly. And as soon as he’s done giving his request and turns around you get to work and you call on every single cell in your brain to get their shit together and perform at 100%.

Parkinson’s law

There’s a saying that goes, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. That’s Parkinson’s law. The time pressure and urgency to complete a task of epic propotions in 10 minutes leads you to become more efficient than you’ve ever thought imaginable.

But it’s not just about a 10-minute deadline which normally takes five people working together an hour to complete. What makes the situation highly challenging and significantly more stressful, is that you’re not given directions on how to carry out the task. Nothing. Nada.

No directions? Isn’t that counterintuitive? Given ibankers work on such important deals wouldn’t it make sense to be instructed properly on what to do? You may ask yourself plenty questions like these. The reason why instructions are not given will be the subject of another article. However, for the purposes of this post, I’d like to highlight how much of a good thing it can be for you not to receive any direction.

If you look past the momentary hell it puts you through and the spike in stress levels your body must adjust to, not to mention the probable onset of an ulcer, it can actually be a very good thing for you in the long run. Before things get good there will be pain. More often than not, lots of it.

Does anyone really think that the superior skills and abilities an ibanker comes to possess through years of experience on the job are intangibles acquired by way of a comfortable and soothing journey? Similar to a lovely evening stroll along the beach somewhere in North Goa? A saunter in Hyde Park. A promenade in Ubud. If only.

Project PORTO

One could fill thousands upon thousands of pages with incidences of tasks assigned with no direction or instruction. As I am in Portugal at present, I am reminded of the time Adam, a senior investment banker covering Portugese banks, appeared at my desk one fine Wednesday morning. [READ MORE…]

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It’s showtime. I’d finished a presentation, printed a copy in colour and placed it, correctly stapled – for one could get a lashing even for something as small as a poorly angled stapling job – on the Managing Director’s desk.

I returned to my seat and began working on the next important task on my to-do list. However, concerns about how my presentation will be received played in the back of your mind. I became anxious. There’s nothing you can do but wait. Keep calm and carry on.

Enter the Managing Director (MD)

I noticed the senior banker returned to his desk yet I kept my gaze fixed ahead and pretended to be entirely preoccupied with a financial model.

As expected, he called me over.

“Come here,” he said.

I immediately got up and walked over to him.

Pointing at the document before him he asked, “This is the final draft?”

For a moment I hesitated. Speak up. “Yes.”

He made himself comfortable, threw me a glance which unequivocally said, “You’d better have gone through this doc carefully at least 50 times before putting it in front of my royal ass,” and then began flipping through the document.

Having done this for over 15 years, the MD didn’t struggle to spot mistakes – errors and typos practically jumped out at him, as would a robe-wearing Buddhist monk at a hedge fund conference.

Then came the moment. I was looking over the MD’s shoulder when, as he was carefully perusing a slide, I noticed that I’d misspelled the name of the client in one of the paragraphs. Holy shit. Absolute catastrophe. This kind of mistake generally warranted outright humiliation in front of the whole team. I nearly fainted. Without warning a drop of sweat descended down my forehead and then crashed onto the MD’s back leaving a wet stain. Shit. He sensed something and violently turned and looked up at me. I returned his forceful stare with a puny smile, which an onlooker would have mistaken for constipation. My superior quickly turned round again to resume his critique. I knew I was seconds away from disaster. He’s going to see it. It was imminent. Meanwhile I’d shortened my life by 2-3 days from the stress of being caught.

The MD cried out: “What the f@&k is this!”

The torture of the wait was over. Let him unleash hell. At least I was about to be put out of my misery.

[READ MORE…]

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Investment bankers drop out of the business daily and there are plenty of causes for this unfortunate phenomenon. Poor performance tops the list and, come on, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Every young banker knows what she or he signs up for before they start. If you don’t perform as you’re expected to you’ll be fired. Very fast.

Another cause of departures has to do with a nasty case of bad luck. If the bank is getting ready to lay off people you could get the short end of the stick. It happens. Investment banks lay off people without mercy. No exaggeration.

Then there are also self-led exits. Say the job becomes so damn overwhelming that you cannot hold up the weight of your responsibilities anymore and so you just give up. You throw in the towel and decide it’s time to get out. Who knows, maybe the real reason is that you want to spend more time with your friends and family; you can’t take any more crap from your boss; or simply because, as you build your 19,000th financial model, it dawns on you that you’ll remember the best years of your life having been spent with Mr. Excel. Whatever your reasons there’s a little trick that can make life a little bit easier at the bank, save you from getting a few additional grey hairs and help you reduce – but just a little – the labour abuse that’s an inevitable part of ibanking. It’s a two-letter word which conveys one of the most powerful human messages. An expression of refusal or denial whose mastery becomes a rite of passage for all successful ibankers who remain in the business and go on to attain great success, perhaps even one day grace the  cover of the Financial Times. That word is “No”.

1) The desire or need to abuse is the natural state of affairs in the jungle of ibanking

A jungle is a wild mass of vegetation but is also a place where animals struggle to survive. You must have thick skin to endure. The tiger doesn’t hesitate to devour a wild pig the moment the latter falls in view. It doesn’t think about little piggy having piggy desires and piggy ambitions and wearing piggy pijamas. It will simply rip the prey in half, walk away and then take a nap, thinking nothing of the slaughter which occurred moments earlier. Piggy was just a means to survival.

Similarly, in an investment bank many bankers won’t give a damn about you or how hard you slave away. You’re a means for them. Your very presence elicits, in them, a desire to give you work. And regardless of how awful, stressed or agitated you look they’ll pile on more work on your plate if they can and won’t think twice about it. I’m not saying they’re heartless bastards. It’s just the nature of the business and people are there to make money. They do what they have to. In fact, it’s very likely that the abuse being dished out was done just as badly to the guy who is doing it to you. And in time you’ll do it to the school of  fresh-faced goldfish that joins the firm.

2) The naturally weak will attract more predators for they are easy prey

Ruthless struggle is part of jungle life. And easy prey is, well let’s be honest, easy. If you’re a starved feline you chase the slow, helpless creature (i.e. meal).

In an ibank’s junior class there will always be a number of young grasshoppers eager to please all. Sadly, in their attempt to demonstrate eagerness, this demographic will be seen as willing and subservient servants. And surely they will be treated as such. They are generally incapable of refusing requests, which in a bank tend to come across more so as commands – remember, ibankers are assertive.

Therefore, when a junior ibanker is identified as a “yes” man or woman they will very likely be given a steady flow of work. More so than their more defensive peers. The “yes” people in time become quite miserable. [READ MORE…]

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