Why People Become Investment Bankers

There are different reasons why individuals become investment bankers (ibankers). Why they yearn to practice the sacred art of investment banking (ibanking). Though some people enter this esoteric world of high finance by pure chance, and with little effort, they are anomalies. In the vast majority of cases deep-seated motivations propel the uninitiated to persevere until the gates of entry to that prestigious world open before them and they finally break into investment banking.

Most of those motivations can be grouped into categories. They explain why so many bankers agree to work unusually long hours, put up with abnormally high levels of stress and sacrifice so much personal and leisure time. Take a look at the faces of people who have been in the business for over 10 years, especially in a front office role. Many wear their sacrifice on their face. Sadly, few of them realise this.

Those of you currently in the business, next time you attend the Monday morning meeting just take a nice, long look around the room at the seniors bankers present. Is it not unusual that many of them are probably 10 years younger than they look? I know it took me less than a year at the bank to give birth to most of the grey hairs I presently sport.

So why do so many people accept, amongst other things, the premature ageing that comes with the territory?

Different reasons.

Hypnosis: dangling a shiny pendulum

For many there’s a psychological attraction. After being mesmerized by the words and countenance of recent graduates in polished suits at campus recruiting events dreamy-eyed candidates are propelled to put forth an application. I recall one banking workshop where the speaker, a young banker, left his key chain on the panel table before getting up to speak at a podium. Every one of us noticed the Ferrari emblem of the prancing horse. When the workshop came to an end, my friend Noah nearly trampled two girls as he ran up to speak to the banker. Never mind that the speaker has had stress-induced diarrhoea for the past month, working round the clock to make a deal happen, and has been literally pissing out his ass every morning at work.

Benjamins (US) / dosh (UK) / fric (French) / dinero (Spanish) / foulous (Arabic) / qián (Chinese)

Let there be no doubt that chief amongst the reasons is the motivation to earn a lot of money. See, for many bankers, and banker-wannabes, it’s a given that the entrepreneurial route is the path which ultimately leads to the greatest riches. However, entrepreneurship is beset with pitfalls and risks. Therefore, given the very calculating nature of bankers, the optimal choice is a career which is less risky than entrepreneurship yet at the same time relatively more lucrative than other roles.

If you consider it safe to be employed and risky to be an entrepreneur, then investment banking can be considered one of the best safe bets in terms of compensation.

There are bankers who spring out of bed at 6am every weekday to get ready for work as if called into a meeting by God. The raison d’être for this group is to toil through all the days of the year until one very particular day in the year. Bonus day.

Whether it is earned in €, $, £ or ¥, on a good bonus day it will feel as if God came down to earth and kissed him or her on the forehead.

On bonus day you may notice for the first time that some of your colleagues actually have teeth. Year-round glares turn into ear-to-ear smiles. Many of them will have gotten engaged, married, become parents or taken off on week-long holidays to the Seychelles. However, you will not see them wear as big a smile as the one they’ll walk into work with that day in anticipation of the handout. The stress, grey hairs, hair loss, stomach ulcers, eczema, skin rashes, to name a few undesirable aspects of the job, are justified by the paper handed to them which contains their bonus for the year. If it is a great handout then the day after the beneficiary will glow like a prophet.

Let’s hope it’s a good year.

The lifestyle: la dolce vita

(Bustan Palace Hotel, Muscat – Oman)

From fine Asian restaurants serving mouth-watering black cod with miso and expensive French wine to luxury hotels nestled on hilltops in remote exotic islands, the list of activities enjoyed by bankers can be out of reach to some people in relatively lower-paying industries. Whether the bankers truly appreciate the $100 main or £275 bottle of red wine served at Chez Quelqu’un or rather enjoy the status associated with eating there when the restaurant next door offers more delectable food at a third the price, does not matter here. It’s the lifestyle the job affords that some gravitate towards.

Some chaps and chapettes want the opportunity to hang out with a Barbour quilted jacket-wearing crowd. Makes them feel special.

For others the right lifestyle includes being able to send their kids to a school which will prep them for entry into Eton College (UK), Philips Exeter Academy (US) or Le Rosey (Switzerland).

Many enjoy being able to do the rich person’s routine such as attending niche art exhibits where they’re served champagne, engage in inane small talk and pretend that they’ve done the rounds in art circuits since birth. Reminds me of an ex-colleague who’d always take half an hour to peruse art reviews online, jot down a few key phrases and throw them around at the events like he did a post-doc at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Let’s not forget the fine food:

“Yes, to start with I’ll take the caviar appetizer, followed by the veal fillet, cooked in aubergines, with confit of veal breast, with pepper and lemon, and…oh…as it appears divine I’d also like the artichoke and black truffle soup with the layered brioche and mushroom. Thank you.”

Status: symbol of financial success

For some it’s the prestige that comes with the job which matters most. Many bankers love knowing that their friends refer to them as a “high flying financier”. All of a sudden people around think of you as a financial whiz. Relatives and friends will call you and question you on how to get mortgages, successfully refinance loans, invest in gold, buy into a tech start-up or even how to tip in restaurants. Your opinion on all things monetary suddenly matters very much. That is, even if all you do in your day-to-day job is to give loans to handful of South African corporates and that in reality you’re as knowledgeable on mortgages or commodities as a tourist guide in Giza (Egypt) is about Norwegian forestry.

I’ve know some ibankers who’ll complain about the job on daily basis and carry their utter disdain for their work life on their foreheads. But when you run into them at a rooftop lounge on a Friday evening surrounded by an attractive young crowd of non-finance people you’ll hear them describe what they do as if they’re Thomas Crown.

True love

Some people know they want to work in finance from a young age. True, it’s rare; but when you meet them in a bank you’ll recognize it right away. More often than not they’re very sharp. Everyone in the team will either love or hate them. There is no in between. At a junior level (i.e. Analyst / Associate) they are typically the guys who make far fewer mistakes in presentations and models, digest information and data the quickest and generally appear to feel most at home in the building. It is almost a given that they’ve breezed through their finance studies in university. Some of them probably could have joined a bank straight from high school rather than attend university.

When these worshippers of finance walk across the trading floor or past the Head of M&A’s office they’ll fight hard to keep a stupid smile from manifesting itself. They cannot help it. The trading floor is like a playground for them. The Head of M&A’s office like a throne. And if they receive a nod of acknowledgement from the man or woman inside that office they may rush to the bathroom, lock themselves in a stall and cry out of joy for the job they consider a blessing. They probably hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring) in their heads when they walk around the bank on a busy Monday morning, a difficult day for most humans. Or perhaps Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – the part where the entire ensemble comes together in joyous harmony.

For these special souls, the enjoyment they derive from reading the Financial Times on a Friday morning is tantamount to a sustained mini ejaculation.

I once spotted one of them in the bathroom. Thomas, who attended the UK’s leading boarding schools and spoke as if he were an earl, was an Equity Capital Markets (ECM) Associate and we occasionally worked on deals together. He was probably headed over to chat to a Sales guy and decided to make a pit stop beforehand. He surely thought he was the only person inside the toilets. I was slightly out of his range of vision at the urinals. Anyway, he’d finished washing his hands and was now staring at himself in the mirror:

“Star ECM associate ladies and gentlemen. Rain maker!” he said.

This caught my attention and I quickly noticed he wasn’t on his phone. His smile reminded me of the smile on a friend’s face the day he became a father. Thomas went on chatting to himself.

“Walkin down the trading floor. Smile at the FX guys, “hey Cyrus how’s cable*”, wave to the EM traders, ‘yo Ravi how the Abu Dhabi bonds doing?  Has the sheikh farted again?”
*note: cable is the exchange rate between the US Dollar and British Pound

He suddenly bit both lips and looked down. He was overwhelmed by it all. I nearly bit through my lower lip trying to hold myself from bursting with laughter.

Great expectations

For some, a career in finance is expected of them from a young age. That was certainly the case with Guillaume, a Swiss M&A analyst I met in London during training.

“Most of our family and friends are in finance. My father is a private banker. My older brother is a hedge fund analyst. The pay maintains the lifestyle we like. The lifestyle our friends also have. Bien sur. Of course.”

He tells me this as he brandishes a ring with his family crest on it as if he were a 17th century musqueteer. Has anyone told him there are under 30-year old dotcom-ers who have made more in 5 years than his ancestry combined? And they wear flip-flops and Billabong shorts to work.

Tour of duty: Operations In & Out

The people in this group are those who’ve planned the mission from Day 1. They have given themselves two or three years to immerse themselves in that world, work like a horse, learn as much as possible about finance, hone their PowerPoint presentation and Excel skills, add some eyebrow-raising bullet points in the resume / cv and get out before it’s too late. Once the tour of duty comes to an end they tend to head back to university for graduate studies, launch a start-up, spend a year backpacking around Latin America flirting with locals and smoking indigenous herbs, set about writing an eBook or move into an Ashram in Uttar Pradesh and massage each other thinking it will lead to enlightenment.

Sadly, only some of the people who swear an oath to the tour of duty on that very first day fulfill their mission. Everybody in finance reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. To those in the business: how many times have you told yourself, ‘just one more year…just one more bonus’?  To those who have friends in the business: how many times have you heard them insist they’ll soon leave their job? Most end up MIA (missing in action). Once behind enemy lines and captured people slowly forget the original plan, which is easily overshadowed by the perks of the job inside the golden cage. That is precisely what happened to Carlos, a friend of a friend.

He was on a two year plan. So he said. Six years later – though you’d think it more like 15 years looking at his face and what’s left of his hair – he still insists departure is imminent. A few months ago I ran into him in a lounge in New York. Rihanna’s What’s My Name started to play and he began to dance. You could call it that, if you had downed half a bottle of vodka and were looking through a kaleidoscope. I’m fairly certain in some part of the world he’d get violently beaten with a dead monkey and have his head shaved with a rock for looking that bad. He used to dance with a modicum of style I was told. But after sitting on a chair crunched over a computer 12+ hours per day modelling on Excel for six years…shit happens.

The people

One attraction of working in an investment bank is that you’re sure to work alongside some bright minds. The reason for that is very simple: investment banking promises enormous wealth and an exciting career and, therefore, it attracts some of the sharpest, most intelligent and driven individuals in academia and the workplace.

I can’t deny that I’ve met some impressive people in the bank. Having said that, I’ve also met a great deal of legendary imbeciles.

Nonetheless, some ibankers join and stay in the business because of the people.

Chance, circumstance or the alignment of the stars

Some stumble into the business by sheer chance, much like one accidentally steps in dogshit. It just happens. They’re at the right place, at the right time, and opportunity presents itself.

It just so happens that nerds (intelligent but single-minded persons obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit) are most likely to have this happen to them. Why? They’re natural chess masters, have an engineering degree from a top-ranked global university and, most important of all, give off the exact impression a managing director wants to see in a potential recruit: “I’m a geek, will work like a dog, make few mistakes and rip open my scrotum doing the splits on two chairs like Van Damn if you ask me to.”  Hired!

Why I became an ibanker

My goal / objective was clear from Day 1: learn as much as I can; work with some very talented and intelligent individuals; gain the relevant skills; make the right contacts; work on large deals; and when the time is right jump and do my own thing.

Having investment banking experience on a resume / cv no doubt strengthens your profile in the business world.

Of course money and the element of prestige also played roles. Yet they were not the sole driving factors for me. Besides, the big money you read about in the media only goes into the pockets of a select few in banks. It takes some time before you earn the big numbers. Also, they’ll always give you just enough to make sure you stay another year. And another. And another.

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76 thoughts on “Why People Become Investment Bankers

  1. Peter H says:

    I think cash is 98% of it…oh ya and the women that gravitate towards you once they realize where you work and assume you’re in the 1%.

  2. Lincoln says:

    I am a finance major and am striving to be an investment banker. This information on ibankers is very humorous and enlightening! It helped a load!!Thanks!

  3. Stan Getz says:

    I guess the notion that you do something interesting, that you might be proud to do but also profitable is probably considered naive.

  4. cece says:

    I have a question. When you work as in an Ibank. My friend told me he is not allowed to bring phones to the washroom because it is secured. Is this a lie? He works in an Ibank in Cleveland.

    • Leopold says:

      There are ibanks in Cleveland? No, seriously? That sounds like the worst of all worlds: The only attractive features of ibanking (the possibility of earning 1%-style money, the excitement of big deals in exotic locations, surrounding yourself with bright individuals, the glamour of big city living) would all be missing in Cleveland, so what kind of idiot would do go into ibank there?

  5. Banana says:

    haha, great stuff. I’m working in canary wharf at the moment on a gap year! I have a feeling I’ll stick big 4 and climb the ladder instead!

    • Ariel R. says:

      Likewise, I am sixteen years old and I am also going to be an investment banker. I would like to know how you are preparing, too. Personally, I have been trading and researching stocks with my dad.

  6. zainab m h says:

    I am a student of MBF preparing for interview in ibanking, ur blog enlightened me, it was real usful insight about how it’s all going to be when he or she is a banker. was really educating. Thanks alot

  7. Andrew says:

    I wish to become an Investment banker I live in Islamabad Pakistan .. Plzz guys tell me from where and how can we do it

  8. Equity Research says:

    Most people become investment bankers because they are over-achievers but lack a personal vision or project to direct all that ambition, so they default to investment banking because that’s where they have been told the ceiling is (at least in terms of first job out of college). At least that the case for most graduates joining the top 10 houses (http://equity-research.com/list-of-top-200-investment-banks-and-boutiques/). The rest I guess they just need the money. 🙂

    • Sherlock says:

      Yep, that’s exactly why I’m pursuing a career in investment banking. A sad but true reality. I suppose some people are just cursed with ambition and drive but no vision of their own to direct it towards….

  9. littlekay says:

    hi there,
    I’ve been an investment banker for 26 years. I enjoyed your funny way of describing the industry as a whole. But you missed to point out the most important reason why people become ibankers: helping other people and their businesses! It doesn’t matter how big or how small of the bonus ibanker gets at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter the social prestige that ibanking brings(you don’t need your relative’s envy anyway). The only thing that matters is helping the community, helping other people succeed in their own endeavors!

    • M&A Banker says:

      M&A banker for 12 years now, at 3 bulge brackets, and I can say what Littlekay said is complete BS.
      But the reader should bear in mind that people get brainwashed in banking and frankly, are increasingly delusional over time.
      Unless of course Littlekay was in charge of public lending to social enterprises and micro businesses? They don’t get a bonus or social prestige there, though…

  10. Aviral says:

    Hi ,

    I am a Software Engineer by profession working in an MNC .
    Due to interest in investment banking I want to direct my career in that direction and I am working on that as well .
    But due to lack of resources I am not able to move in that direction in a stream-lined way .
    Also cannot afford education in very reputed college due to financial reasons .
    It is requested to please help and suggest some free sites where I can get some study material with good examples in it .
    If this can be done then it will be a great help because currently I am studing through google only and that’s in very irregular fashion .

    Seeking your support , Thanks in advance .

  11. bob says:

    Great article. I’m 17 and at college and actually love finance – I’ve been buying and selling shares since I was 10!

    It’s a shame that when I go to banking events for college kids everyone else just talks about the money and no-one actually seems to find it interesting. I love how markets are so fluid and volatile, and linked so closely to events in the real world, and that I could be working on some of the biggest mergers or IPOs in decades. I would do the job for peanuts pay – seriously.

    • Ariel R. says:

      How well does the whole, “I’ve been trading for X years” play when you are in a college interview? I am just wondering because that is kind of my Ace in the whole. Not that i am not intelligent, i have a 3.8 Average with the most difficult classes my high school has to offer, but so does everyone else.

  12. isa joshua says:

    I want to be a banker…I need someone to tell me what course should I study in the university….am from nigeria….and tell me how many years am I to do in the university before I graduate?

  13. Harrison says:

    Hello people..pls I’m looking at becoming an intern in an ib..
    I am a fresh graduate. What are the skills that I need to possess before getting accepted as an intern in an ib..??
    Please I need your honest and candid response and advice.

  14. investing-world says:

    Its important to consider that, as a beginner in the investment world, you are sure to make mistakes. Everyone does, but its your ability to learn from these mistakes that will give you the experience necessary to carry on and improve your results. The only logical way to learn from your mistakes is to write down everything you do, and evaluate it thoroughly. This way you will be able to acknowledge what mistakes you make, and help you avoid repeating them.

  15. Jake Williams says:

    Your line about hearing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring) made me chuckle. But it really puts into perspective that there are a different breed of people that thrive in the stress that kills the rest of us.

  16. Bernardo Vanterpool says:

    Marvelously put together. I’m only at the commence of pursuing a degree in accounting but after reading about investment bankers, I sure will try my hardest to adapt and become one.

  17. theresa muzondo says:

    With all the stress and pressure that comes with investment banking, it is good to see that you still have a sense of humour so i guess investment banking is not as bad as people make it out to be. I enjoyed reading this article.

  18. Theresa Muzondo says:

    with all the stress and pressure that comes with investment banking, it is good to see that you still have a sense of humor so i guess investment banking is not as bad as people make it out to be. i enjoyed reading this article.

  19. Athena says:

    First and foremost I’d like to commend and thank you for your phenomenal blog – I am quite a fan too! Furthermore I find this article to be very informative and insightful – a real masterpiece! You described this cut throat world impeccably. And you possess this exceptional talent of making the disadvantages seem attractive… Furthermore your sharp and uncanny humour is simply delightful. It’s like looking in from the outside… And thank you to investing-world for the insight as well.

  20. Dev P says:

    Bought your book on Amazon yesterday. Went through half of it in one sitting. I’m taking notes and realise will have to read again. And again. Great wisdom!

  21. Eric says:

    Your article was rather impeccable and very informative. I am currently a junior in high school and I was wondering, in order to become an investment banker, should I major in Business Administration or Finance? Also, would investment banks be more inclined to hire me if I attended a university like the University of Chicago?

  22. Aaina Khan says:

    Investment banking as a career option is very challenging, exciting and promising. It offers an accelerated career path for those who want to enter in the finance industry. This is very vast and challenging field with numerous career options.

  23. Drew says:

    Great Article, I thought it was a great read. Wouldn’t you think after a certain period of time that there is a love for the work that keeps these older bankers working the hours for so long? Also could it be for the hard-working ambitious with no other serious passions or life long goals they want to tie their careers to? You also have to consider the baseline for new careers. IB gives you insight into how business operate and how to predict/value a company properly which could be carried over into a variety of fields.

    Freeman School

  24. Bethany Walker says:

    Cool article and very imformative. I myself am looking at careers in banking and my isf university really helped me progress.

  25. Vanessa says:

    I like to think of ibankers as “FUN”DRAISERS” living for the EXCITING VACATIONS from the BIG BONUSES!! Love my ibankers.

  26. Vanessa says:

    This was a fun blog to have read. I Love the humor and irony. I was on Google looking up what ibankers are and what they do and low and behold here’s your blog. Thanks for simplifying everything. Great early morning reading.

  27. Sidbizbuzz says:


    Amazing articles. I’ve been following your page for more than 2 years now and the articles you write have truly inspired me. Whenever I feel I’m drifting away from my main focus or when I need to gain some perspective in life I visit your page. I’ve taken up finance in college and am currently in my second year. If you had the time, could you further guide me and tell me what other things, studies, courses, internships etc I should pursue after my college to become an investment banker, in the big leagues of course. It has been a long standing dream of mine and I would love for you to guide me further in my journey.
    Looking forward to your response.

    ibanker fan 🙂

  28. Jon Byrne says:

    It has been said that there are many different reasons why many talented individuals want to become investment bankers, but the truth is most of them do it for the money.

  29. Mary says:

    Should I leave my current university where I have a scholarship for my undergraduate degree and instead go to a top university but accumulate high student debt in loans?

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