What’s it really like as a junior in an investment bank?

Junior banker

When James Trant told friends he was joining at Goldman Sachs, they were apprehensive on his behalf. The expectation was that Goldman would be, “brutal”, said Trant last month. In fact, Trant told us he’s found life at GS to be, “open” and “down to earth,” and not at all like the preconceptions of his peers.

Trant’s just one analyst at just one bank, though. He’s also relatively new to the investment banking division (IBD) after moving across from asset management last summer, and may still be on some kind of honeymoon period…

Even so, working in banking might not be as tough as you’d expect. And even if it is tough, there are upsides. We spoke (off the record) to a selection of IBD juniors across a selection of banks in London about what makes their jobs worthwhile. This is what they said.

1. The money is great: you can pay off your student debt and save for a house deposit

Pay might be disappointing if you’re working in the technology function of an investment bank, but if you’re in a front office job in sales and trading or corporate finance, you could be paid very well indeed: six figures within three years.

Needless to say, this is a big plus. “The people I know who’ve gone into consulting are earning half as much as me,” says one analyst at a U.S. bank in London. “I have £50k in student debt and I’m throwing all my bonus at that,” he adds. “My plan is either to pay off all that debt and the start saving for a house, or to pay off the debt and then start saving for business school.”

2. Your colleagues are pretty special 

Everyone we spoke to also lauded the quality of their colleagues and the sense of “togetherness” they had. “There’s a sense of us being, “all in this together,” said one analyst. “I genuinely believe the network I have here will last a long time.”

“People here have big dreams,” said another analyst. “You get to work with people of a very high quality.”

Another analyst said he thought of going to Google but decided against it because of the depth of experience in banking: “Google’s a young company in a comparatively young industry. – You won’t find people there with 20 years’ experience fine-tuning their skillset.”

3. You get an incredibly broad training within 12 months

We spoke to an analyst in the UK coverage team at a US bank in London. “I work across all types of equity and M&A transaction,” he said. “After 10-12 months, I understood everything from equity fund raising and building an equity story ahead of an IPO to working on a sellside M&A deal.”

Other analysts pointed to the steep learning curve in IBD: “You’re not going to get this kind of immersive experience in a graduate role in a different industry,” said one.

4. The work is far more interesting than at Google (unless you’re an engineer)

The analyst who said he’d contemplated working for Google explained that he’d decided against it because the jobs there were fundamentally pretty boring.

“I’m an economics graduate and if I’d gone to Google I would have been selling advertising space on Google search. It’s just not the same as working in corporate finance,” he said.

5. Yes, the hours are long, but when you’re out, you’re out

What about the infamously harsh investment banking hours? Even they’re bearable according to the analysts we spoke to. “The thing with investment banking is that all the work is done in the office,” said one analyst. “When you leave the office you check your emails but that’s it. – Yes, you work long hours, but the work does at least feel contained within the four office walls. When you’re on holiday, for example, no one is going to hassle you.”

He compared this to consulting, where the actual working hours can be shorter, but a lot of time is spent on the road in anonymous hotel rooms. – Even when you’re not working, you’re still in an environment dictated by work.

6. A few years in banking are a good preparation for all sorts of things 

Lastly, the juniors all agreed that banking will leave them smarter and more employable.

“You develop a very good ability to assess whether one company is better than another in terms of both product and financials,” said one analyst. “You can start to unpick companies after around 10 months.”

Another said banking teaches you to be pragmatic: “You just get very practical about things. You can quickly see the advantages and disadvantages of a business idea, including your own.”

“You have these big brands on your CV and there are loads of exit opportunities,” said an analyst in a European bank. “Essentially banking is what you make of it,” she adds. “You have endless resources at your disposal and can use it to launch a career as an entrepreneur or in industry. – You will always get a leg-up because of your reputation.”